REDONDO BEACH, Calif. – March 17, 2014 – The first Milstar protected communications satellite, launched 20 years ago, Feb. 7, 1994, gave U.S. national and defense leaders a new capability: assured communications day or night, without detection or interception under any level of military conflict.

And now the satellite, with a Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) designed and built low data rate (LDR) payload, has achieved an unprecedented 20 years of successful on-orbit operations, or double its design life. The LDR payload is the operational heart of Milstar Flight 1, featuring autonomous processing, routing and network management capabilities.

In the payload's lifetime, it has provided more than 166,000 hours of service with more than 99 percent availability. It could allow hundreds of users to access the system at any given time, operating in geostationary orbit.

"The Milstar Flight 1 payload is still fully mission capable, a completely integrated component of the Milsatcom constellation of satellites that provides protected communications worldwide via satellite-to-satellite crosslinks. It is expected to continue providing secure communications to U.S. and Allied Forces for years to come," said Stuart Linsky, vice president, Communication Programs, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "Today it continues to provide assured voice and data communications for strategic users."

Six Milstar satellites were launched between 1994 and 2003. Northrop Grumman provided Milstar payloads to system prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif., as it does for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency current generation of protected communication satellites.

The payload is the mission-specific module containing the complete set of processing, routing and control hardware and software that perform the satellite's communications function. Milstar payloads also house all critical features needed to protect against interception or jamming threats.

"These payloads made Milstar not only the most protected, secure and most advanced satellite communication system ever deployed, but also the most technologically adaptable satellite system to the needs of its users," Linsky said.

"Because the communication functions are configurable in digital and software-based processors, the national command has been able to configure the communication resources according to need. In addition, during these 20 years, we have uploaded new versions of processor software, delivering enhanced capabilities without having to design and build new satellites."

The LDR payload distinguished itself through several groundbreaking achievements. In addition to its autonomous processing, routing and network management capabilities, the payload offered military users several other important "firsts," Linsky said. It was the first satellite payload to:

  • Allow members of all the armed services to communicate with each other on the same network;
  • On board processing for the most reliable digital communications, crosslinks and "switchboard-in-the-sky" for global connectivity;
  • Offer its users secure, jam-proof communications, even under the most rigorous jamming scenarios;
  • Provide instant, in-theater communications infrastructure for mobile users; and
  • Support direct communication through satellite-to-satellite crosslinks, without the assistance of costly or potentially vulnerable ground stations.

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