ViaSat has selected Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) to support the US Air Force (USAF) programme to deliver and test the Link 16-capable low Earth orbit (LEO) spacecraft.

In May, Viasat won a contract under the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles XVI programme to prototype and test space-based Link 16 capabilities.

The capabilities are compatible with the fielded Link 16-enabled platforms, including ground vehicles, aircraft, maritime vessels and dismounted users.

The spacecraft will provide troops with enhanced situational awareness by extending the range of Link 16 networks.

BCT is required to design and manufacture a 12U small satellite bus.

Viasat is responsible for the design and manufacture of the spacecraft’s payload. The Link 16-capable LEO spacecraft is anticipated to be launched next year.

BCT CEO and president George Stafford said: “To date, Link 16 technology has only been capable of line-of-sight communications. By demonstrating that Link 16 can operate in a space environment on small satellites, the US military can gain beyond-line-of-sight tactical advantages on the battlefield and ultimately keep our troops safer.”

Link 16 is a military tactical data link network that allows the US military and Nato allies to share critical information.

Using the encrypted radio frequency, different platforms such as aircraft, land vehicles and ships can exchange data and images in standard message formats.

The pilot project of the USAF is intended to assess the feasibility of using small satellites in LEO to relay better information to military assets and ground forces.

Viasat government systems president Ken Peterman said: “This Link 16-capable LEO spacecraft will address the Department of Defense’s urgent need for a fast-to-market, cost-effective, space-based Link 16 solution to maintain the technological edge needed in contested environments.”

The 12U spacecraft can provide a satellite platform that optimises payload volume. BCT will develop and test the spacecraft bus at its spacecraft manufacturing centre in Colorado, US.

The XVI programme is part of efforts to create a global Link 16-enabled LEO satellite constellation.

It will ensure secure, high-speed and resilient communications for the US and allied military forces.