Featured Image Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan
SpaceX is deploying a constellation of Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit to deliver broadband internet globally. There are around 708 internet-beaming satellites currently in orbit, out of the 4,409 satellites that will initially comprise the Starlink network. The company is primarily focused on connecting rural areas around the world where the internet is unreliable and inaccessible.
The United States Air Force signed a deal with SpaceX valued at around $28 million in 2018, to assess the Starlink network’s performance on military platforms. The Air Force is actively experimenting with how space-based internet could enhance Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). These operations require moving vast quantities of data between the five domains of warfare: ground, sea, sky, outer space, and cyberspace. The military needs a reliable communication system at all times to protect and defend the country from potential threats. The assessment of Starlink will offer the military insight on whether it should purchase Starlink service long-term.
U.S. Air Force Chief for Acquisition Dr. Will Roper, who serves as the principal adviser for technology research and development, met with reporters to discuss a live-fire military exercise that took place early this month, Investors news reports. During the conference, Roper shared SpaceX’s Starlink network was tested during the live-fire exercise as part of the military’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). – “What I've seen from Starlink has been impressive and positive,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “They're cleverly engineered satellites cleverly deployed. So, there's a lot to learn from how they're designed and I think that there's a lot we can learn from them.”
Roper shared that the Air Force connected Starlink to a “variety of air and terrestrial assets”. Starlink terminals are hooked to the cockpit of a Boeing (BA) KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft to assess the network’s performance while the airplanes fly.
Having a stable satellite-based internet system will enable the military to communicate at all times across the world, even in areas where the internet does not exist. – “The military needs to be ready to play a strategic role because we need communications in many areas of the world that there are no commercial providers,” Roper said. “We can be the stability case for companies like SpaceX and others who want to sell communications worldwide. [They] may not be thinking about customers over the ocean, but we've got our Navy there. [They] may not be thinking about customers up in the Arctic but we have our airplanes there.”
SpaceX is also assessing Starlink’s performance. Company officials announced Starlink satellites have delivered low-latency, high-speed broadband internet. “…Results from beta initial tests have shown both low-latency below 30 ms [milliseconds] and download speeds greater than 100 Mbps [megabits per second],” SpaceX wrote to the Federal Communications Commission on September 2nd – “As it works through these beta tests, SpaceX continues to add features to unlock the full capability of the satellites and user equipment. SpaceX continues its aggressive launch schedule, and this modification is a crucial component in closing the digital divide, including service to Polar Regions.”