4 mins read 19 Jan 2022

Australia's biggest SATCOM Project nears contractor selection

The closing date for tenders to be submitted for the defence communications satellite program, JP9102 has passed with the contenders announcing new partnerships as they submit their bids. 

Airbus already has a purpose built satellite ground station in Adelaide that supports Airbus Defence and Space’s Skynet secure military satellite communications. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space.

The deadline of January 10th has passed and the bids are in for the Australian Defence Satellite Communication System, JP9102. Now it is the long wait to see which of the proposals is chosen. The work isn’t over for the tendering companies quite yet though, with the tenderers having to present their proposals to the Commonwealth sometime next month. It is expected that there will be an outcome, or at least a number of preferred bids will be down-selected, towards the end of this year. 

The Christmas period saw a flurry of last-minute announcements as bidders looked to finalise partnerships before the January closing date. Lockheed Martin Australia, Airbus’ with Team Maier, Boeing, and Team AUSSAT (Optus, Thales and Raytheon) have all confirmed that they have submitted bids.  Multinational aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman Australia is also believed to have submitted a proposal for the multi-million dollar program.    

The Race for Australia’s biggest SATCOM project

Lockheed Martin Australia’s JP9102 team comprises a host of leading Australian SMEs and service providers including Av-Comm, Calytrix, Conscia, Clearbox, Shoal, Blacktree, EM Solutions and DXC. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

2021 ended with several announcements about growing teams and new collaborations forming in response to the large JP9102 project and the opportunity it brings. Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA) added veteran-owned infrastructure advisory firm, Conscia, Australian owned communications solutions specialist, Blacktree Technology and global IT services company DXC Technology to its JP9102 team. 

“Lockheed Martin Australia’s JP9102 team is ready to accelerate the delivery of an operationally agile and flexible solution that has the capacity to meet the ADF’s evolving needs,” said David Ball, regional director for space at Lockheed Martin Australia.  

Western Australian-based leader in integrated training solutions, Calytrix, who are developing an innovative and modern training management system in satellite operations and Brisbane-based subsidiary of Electro-Optic Systems, EM Solutions also joined the LMA proposal. 

“Working with Lockheed Martin Australia on JP9102 is a breakthrough opportunity for EM Solutions to further develop our breadth of specialist capabilities that will have downstream benefits for Australian industry long into the future,” said Rowan Gilmore, EM Solutions’ chief executive officer.

LMA also announced the addition of Australia’s largest Australian-owned logistics company, Linfox. Linfox will provide support through warehouse provisioning and distribution operations, and it joins an extensive network of Australian SMEs and team members.

“We’re working hand-in-glove with an extensive set of local industry partners to build a highly-skilled, high-value Australian workforce. These Australian companies will contribute to an extensible and resilient sovereign MILSATCOM solution that strengthens Australia’s space capability long into the future,” added Ball.

Australia’s satellite communications project

JP9102 is more than just the satellite bus and tenders will have had to consider many aspects including supporting infrastructure, end users, data manipulation and ground stations. Credit: Boeing.

Airbus have built Team Maier, partnering with a number of Australian companies. They have confirmed that their bid will build on their successful European based Skynet program with Airbus JP9102 Campaign Lead, Martin Rowse saying, “Airbus is pleased to confirm our submission to the JP9102 programme, which will deliver a world-leading MILSATCOM capability for Australia. The approach will deploy advanced capabilities already proven on Skynet 5 and 6A in the UK to ensure that Australia's sovereign capability will be the most advanced available and tailored to the needs of the ADF.” 

Boeing has also developed a strong team with their proposal based upon the WGS-11+ satellite bus. This is the latest iteration of their successful WGS platform currently in use with the United States military. Their solution will harness the Boeing Company’s six decades of space experience with a local industry-leading team including Saber Astronautics, Clearbox Systems, Leidos, ViaSat, Indigenous Defence and Infrastructure Consortium and Titomic and will include a substantial investment in Australian industry capabilities.

“Using the WGS-11+ design gives Australia a low-risk, proven next-generation satellite product which will meet Defence’s rapid delivery schedule,” said Matt Buckle, Space and Launch business director at Boeing Defence Australia.

Boeing also announced that they have partnered with the University of South Australia and Regional Development Australia (RDA) to embed space and science into the national school curriculum to develop the Future U program. The lesson plans gave students the chance to design and test a Mars spacecraft prototype, explore the uses of welding across the space manufacturing sector, improve the sustainability of flights, and build and work in a gateway lunar base.

It is clear that it is a hotly contested tender that will give the Commonwealth reviewers plenty to consider. Whoever wins, it seems it will be a win for Australia’s space and SATCOM capabilities.