Equipped with a prototype antenna from Northrop Grumman Corp., a US Air Force (USAF) B-2 stealth bomber successfully demonstrated communication with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite communications (satcom) network. In addition to the company’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) antenna, the demonstration included a government-furnished Navy multiband terminal and an AEHF engineering model payload. Northrop Grumman conducted the demonstration at its Space Park facility in Redondo Beach, CA.
The AESA antenna will allow the B-2 to send and receive battlefield information at significantly faster data rates compared to current satellite technology (see photo). Earlier this year, the company validated the AESA antenna’s performance on instrumented test ranges. Verification included the antenna’s entire transmit and receive frequency band, which was then tested over its required range of scan angles.
The goal of these end-to-end tests is to prove the maturity of the technologies required to begin full-scale development of a new satcom system. Once a B-2 is equipped with the new antenna and an extra-high-frequency (EHF) radio, the tests suggest that communication with the AEHF satellite network will occur accurately and securely during all phases of a mission, states Maria Tirabassi, Northrop Grumman Product Manager for B-2 EHF antenna systems. Secure transmission techniques were used to conduct the tests at EHF frequencies.
Future tests will include other B-2 satellite terminal candidates, such as a government-furnished Family of Beyond line-of-sight terminal. Once these are completed, the company plans to demonstrate the ability of the AESA antenna as well as a terminal to communicate directly “over the air” with an operational AEHF satellite.