Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX, the aerospace company that is getting ready to launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time, is leveraging its experience in building spacecraft “to deploy the world’s most advanced broadband internet system.” Starlink, will be a mega constellation of internet-beaming satellites that will provide low latency connectivity worldwide. SpaceX’s Starlink network will especially benefit rural areas where internet is unreliable or nonexistent. The Starlink constellation will consist of over 12,000 satellites – these are small, feature a single solar, and a flat type of antenna that is capable of transmitting signal in all directions. Right now, there is a total of 420 satellites in low Earth orbit.
On May 20, the United States Army signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement contract with SpaceX to test and asses Starlink broadband communication in military platforms. It is three-year agreement with the Army that will determine if the network is reliable for future operations. This type of contract is to give the military insight to the service, after the three-year period concludes, the U.S. Army will decide if they will purchase the service long-term. The Starlink assessment will be monitored by the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s C5ISR Center based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. SpaceNews reports an Army source said, “the three-year agreement will allow the Army to understand potential applications of state-of-the art advancements in commercial RF SATCOM such as the new Starlink LEO constellation and modern SATCOM terminal developments capable of tracking LEO satellites.”
General John Murray, Commander of the U.S Army Futures Command, told reporters on May 27, the assessment of the Starlink network’s capabilities will mainly focus on security vulnerabilities and how reliable the service is. “I would view this as exploratory,” he said. “It’s about figuring out what capabilities they can provide, and what vulnerabilities do they have?”
The U.S Army deals with secret information during operations, so, assessing the Starlink network is secure against cyber-attacks will be very important. The military wants to try Starlink “before we lock ourselves into a multibillion-dollar acquisition program,” Murray stated. “…We are interested in commercial broadband capability from space, and from low Earth orbit,” he added. “But I would be lying to you if I said there were absolutely zero concerns.”
Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/h3e6QmKRue— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 22, 2020
Space-based internet from satellites is more reliable than terrestrial internet providers because in space, there is no threat from natural phenomena, like extreme weather and earthquakes that can disable communication systems. Satellites continually beam signal down to Earth which is useful when disaster strikes; first responders and the military must have constant, reliable communication during operations.
SpaceX aims to deploy another batch of 60 Starlink satellites in June. The company’s plan is to roll out service in Northern United States and Canada first, then expand coverage in 2021. SpaceX officials said around 800 satellites could provide moderate coverage needed to initiate services. Starlink customers would receive internet connection via small user terminals that look like a “UFO on a stick.” The Federal Communications Commission already approved the operation of one million user terminals in the United States. SpaceX hopes to initiate public beta tests in the northern hemisphere in about six months.