Featured Image Source: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter
SpaceX is in the process of building Starlink, a mega-constellation of internet-beaming satellites in low Earth orbit. The rocket company plans to fund missions to colonize Mars by offering worldwide broadband internet connectivity. Especially in under-served rural areas where connectivity is unreliable or non-existent. There is currently a total of 360 satellites in orbit out of 12,000 that will initially make-up the Starlink network.
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, including hooking-up Starlink terminals to the cockpit of military airplanes. The U.S military wants to experiment with how space-based internet services might enhance their Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). These MDO operations will require moving vast quantities of data between all domains of warfare: land, air, sea, 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 communication infrastructure.
Last year, Starlink's connectivity was tested by the U.S Air Force's Global Lightning program, demonstrations linked SpaceX’s Starlink low-latency broadband internet system to gunship aircraft. Next month, the U.S Airforce will conduct a live-fire exercise. According to Will Roper, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, "The event that we have coming up April 8 is going to be massive." Roper said during a press conference at the Pentagon in February.
"The event that we have coming up April 8 is going to be massive."
The live-fire exercise will involve military airplanes and ground stations equipped with a new communication system that will feature SpaceX Starlink's broadband internet connection. It will be a "massive" military exercise involving: ground troops, shooting down cruise missiles, and taking down an unmanned air crafts, among other operations. These activities will take in different bases around the country, including at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Nellis AFB, Nevada, and Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
Roper told reporters that the first Starlink demonstration went very well, "The only failure” in the previous exercise last year was that "we had way too many successes," he said. "My hope for this event, unlike the first event, is that we have an equal measure of things that fail for things that succeeded." SpaceX’s Starlink satellites will participate "to a greater degree" in the April exercise. He stated SpaceX could connect Starlink terminals to more military platforms.
According to Airforce Magazine, the April exercise will involve demonstrating how aircrafts like C-17s and KC-135s can operate in a modern world using new technology and Starlink's encrypted connectivity. Air Mobility Command, General Maryanne Miller stated:
"Where there’s a tanker, there’s a fighter, and nothing moves without a gray tail or a [Civil Reserve Air Fleet] assert. So we have to be connected into the network, so we can be that link, that sensor, and that JADC2 [Joint All-Domain Command and Control] node."
After the April demonstration, the next one will take place in July. The Air Force's Global Lightning program, will test SpaceX's satellite internet network by transferring data to a KC-135 airplane's cockpit.
Then in August, the Air Mobility Command will participate in another Advanced Battle Management System experiments. Air Force Magazine details that the goal is "to further test the Global Lightning concept in a theater outside the continental United States."
By October, the military expects to test SpaceX Starlink's connectivity in a real-world scenario during a "Orange Flag flight test event." In which pilots will assess the Starlink terminal and signal performance while flying.
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.