Featured Image Source: Wikipedia
The U.S military wants to experiment with how space-based internet services might enhance their Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), officials stated: "We’re not focused just on any one company. Our intent is to characterize the performance and understand the pros and cons of all of the commercial systems when used on military platforms." SpaceX was awarded a $28 million contract from United States' Air Force Research Laboratory in 2018, to test and assess Starlink satellites by connecting their broadband internet to military platforms. They also awarded millions to several different satellite communication companies. These MDO operations will require moving vast quantities of data between the five domains of warfare -at sea, in the air, in outer space, and cyberspace. Therefore, the military needs a reliable communication system to protect and defend the country from potential threats. Space-based internet is faster and more reliable than terrestrial internet infrastructure.
The Air Force program known as Global Lightening tested Starlink internet last year. Starlink terminals were fixed to the cockpit of a C-12J Huron twin-engine turboprop military airplane, they beamed encrypted internet from space. Program officials said the tests have demonstrated significantly higher Internet connection and data-transfer rates than what Air Force aircraft can currently receive. The Starlink broadband network demonstrated high-speed internet connectivity of 610 megabits per-second, equivalent to a gigabyte every ~13 seconds. That provides them with faster access to live video, weather, and other data while in flight combat mode. Some of the data could involve signal from sensors to detect threats. In December, the Air Force tested Starlink, and the exercise was a success, with SpaceX Starlink satellites used to link to a Lockheed Martin (LMT) AC-130 gunship aircraft.
Chief William Roper told reporters at the Pentagon that SpaceX Starlink internet satellites will now be tested during a U.S Air Force "massive" live-fire exercise scheduled for April 8. Roper says that during the upcoming live-fire exercises, the Starlink satellites will now be connected to more airplanes, including military platforms on the ground, he said:
"SpaceX has been a great industry partner for us. They are very excited, and we are excited to learn more about their satellites through the demonstration."
The live-fire exercises will be performed across the country, from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; and will include drills with real weapons, ranging from practicing how to take down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to shooting down a cruise missile, which are usually guided by computerized systems. There will also be a test conducted in coordination with the Air Mobility Command that aims to connect the available Starlink satellites to a KC-135 tanker aircraft.
Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed! pic.twitter.com/bKBtI5UZEB— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 17, 2020
SpaceX launched its latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites on Monday bringing the total number of satellites to 290 in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Even though the U.S. Air Force is testing and supporting the constellations development, Starlink services will not only be for military use, SpaceX plans to deliver internet services to customers world-wide. SpaceX officials said their service will be affordable enough so that individuals who live in areas where internet is non-existent, unreliable or too expensive will benefit from the Starlink network. Customers will receive the satellites signal from space to pizza-sized "UFO on a stick" shape terminals.
"With performance that far surpasses that of traditional satellite internet, and a global network unbounded by ground infrastructure limitations, Starlink will deliver high speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable."
According to SpaceX, it will take about 400 satellites to establish minor internet coverage and 800 satellites for moderate coverage, they plan to roll-out service in parts of Northern United States and Canada before the year ends. Initially, the Starlink constellation will consist of approximately 1,584 internet-beaming satellites in low Earth orbit, the company has approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate as many as 12,000 satellites. The company expects to achieve world-wide internet coverage in 2021.