Hoeven Announces $6 Million SDA Award to General Atomics for Satellite to MQ-9 Reaper Laser Communications

Senator & SDA Director Review Efforts to Establish Satellite Mission in Grand Forks, Link with UAS Operations in Red River Valley

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today announced a $6 million award from the Space Development Agency (SDA) to General Atomics to demonstrate satellite to MQ-9 Reaper laser communications. Currently, satellite communications rely on radio frequencies, which require significant amounts of power and are vulnerable to interception and jamming. By utilizing laser communications, this project will enable transmissions between the satellites and unmanned aircraft to use less power and be more secure against detection and interference. Hoeven made the announcement alongside SDA Director Dr. Derek Tournear, who the senator is hosting in North Dakota today to review efforts to:

  • Establish a new low-Earth orbit satellite mission in Grand Forks.
  • Link the new satellite mission with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations in the Red River Valley, including the:
    • 119th Wing’s Reaper mission in Fargo.
    • 319th Reconnaissance Wing’s Global Hawk mission in Grand Forks.

To this end, Hoeven and Tournear met with leaders from the Air National Guard, Air Force, Grand Sky UAS Research and Development Park and the University of North Dakota during the visit. Hoeven stressed that the new satellite operations center would complement the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in the region and outlined his efforts as a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee to secure funding to ensure the center can be operational by Fiscal Year (FY) 2024. 

“This award to General Atomics is the beginning of a new chapter for Grand Forks and Fargo, where we are working to combine our state’s world-leading UAS ecosystem with the SDA’s new low-Earth orbit satellite operations,” said Hoeven. “We appreciate the SDA’s continued commitment to establishing a satellite operations center in Grand Forks, which we are working to fund through the annual defense appropriations legislation. At the same time, Dr. Tournear’s visit was an opportunity to showcase the tremendous work occurring at Grand Sky and help advance the potential for future partnerships.” 

Today’s visit builds on the efforts of Senator Hoeven, along with Senator Kevin Cramer, who have been working with Dr. Tournear and the SDA to identify funding priorities to help advance the new mission. At recent hearing of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven confirmed with Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Barbara McQuiston that SDA is working to stand up a satellite operations center in Grand Forks. The senators also previously discussed a satellite operations center with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Jr. during his visit to Grand Forks in February.