Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, requested Congress nearly $80 million ($79.8 million) in fiscal year 2022 ‘unfunded priority list’ to continue testing space-based communication systems in Polar regions. The requested amount would further fund testing of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet performance, as well as competitor OneWeb’s satellite system, according to a report by Defense News. Commander VanHerck’s request letter to Congress also states that SpaceX plans to launch over 100 Starlink satellites to serve the Arctic this Summer. OneWeb already launched 182 satellites and expects to deliver Arctic coverage before the year ends. By January 2022, the military hopes they achieve around-the-clock broadband coverage in those hard-to-reach regions.
The military has bases all around the world, including remote areas where internet is not reliable or completely unavailable. The Arctic is one of those regions where terrestrial internet infrastructures are not as fast, nor reliable enough. Satellite internet from satellites operating in low Earth orbit, can solve the military’s communication issues and enable faster communication during military operations. If Congress approves the funding, VanHerck says it would be used to develop and test prototypes of a new antenna infrastructure which will enable the military to connect to multiple broadband satellite constellations. The U.S. military is actively assessing Starlink’s performance on a variety of platforms since 2019. The U.S. Air Force has even tested Starlink service aboard the cockpit of military aircraft which yielded positive results. The Starlink constellation has around 1,737 satellites to date, out of 12,000 that will provide broadband coverage globally. SpaceX deployed the first 10 operational Starlink satellites to Polar Orbit in January where they beam signal to Arctic regions, including the U.S. state of Alaska.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared that the 10 Starlink satellites operating in Polar Orbit “[...] have laser links between the satellites, so no ground stations are needed over the poles,” he told TESMANIAN via Twitter earlier this year. The ‘laser links’ enable the satellites to communicate with one another which significantly increases data speed transfer rate. The data speed increases because light travels faster in the vacuum of space compared to fibre-optic cables, so information sent through inter-satellite lasers will arrive significantly faster. In September 2020, SpaceX Senior Program Reliability Engineer Kate Tice, shared in that they tested a pair of satellite prototypes in orbit that feature space lasers, “With these space lasers, the Starlink satellites were able to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data,” she said. “Once these space lasers are fully deployed, Starlink will be one of the fastest options to transmit data all over the world.” All satellites that will serve Polar regions will be the first to feature the laser links, long-term all satellites will be equipped with the same technology.
These also have laser links between the satellites, so no ground stations are needed over the poles— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2021
Featured Image Source: NASA
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.