SpaceX is deploying Starlink satellites to build the ‘world’s most advanced broadband internet system.’ With approximately 1,440 satellites in orbit, SpaceX already provides beta service to a limited amount of customers per region in the United States and abroad. Overall, the constellation will have over 12,000 satellites beaming internet communication globally. To receive connection, users require a pizza-sized phased-array antenna dish that is too large to be portable.
The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) which oversees various military commands of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, announced a proposal to develop a small battery-powered Starlink terminal that would enable SpaceX’s internet service to be portable for military operations. The proposal is published in a document that is part of a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) under the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program [document was first-found by Teslarati]. The USSOCOM wants to research whether developing a portable Starlink antenna soldiers could carry is ‘feasible’ and if it would reliably connect them to the internet infrastructure. “The objective of this topic is to develop applied research toward an innovative capability to develop a small form factor system that enables reliable access to the Starlink commercial internet system,” they said.
“As a part of this feasibility study, the proposers shall address all viable overall system design options with respective specifications on the key system attributes. The current commercial Starlink system uses a 1m dish and requires significant amounts of power to operate. The key system attributes for the desired system are that it must be man portable and battery powered,” the USSOCOM document reads. “The system should be designed to be as small as possible while providing enough link margin to achieve reliable internet connection over the Starlink constellation.”
The United States military has previously tested the Starlink network. In 2019 and August 2020, the U.S. Air Force hooked large, box-shape Starlink terminals to the cockpit of aircraft to assess the network’s performance during military exercises. “We are delivering high bandwidth into the cockpit of Air Force planes [...] Right now we're just testing the capability and figuring out how to make it work,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at that time. The tests demonstrated data-transfer rates ‘one hundred times faster’ than what Air Force aircraft can currently receive.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently said that it would be a “good idea” to create a smaller Starlink antenna for users to access the internet service anywhere they go. The Starlink dish terminal in operation could only be used aboard large vehicles, like ships and RV's. However, the broadband service is still in its beta phase and limited to one service location address, as more satellites are deployed to space the service will become more reliable and offer more coverage across regions. Musk said Starlink service will go “fully mobile later this year.” – “…So you can move it anywhere or use it on an RV or truck in motion. We need a few more satellite launches to achieve compete coverage & some key software upgrades," he stated. "Service uptime, bandwidth & latency are improving rapidly. Probably out of beta this summer,” he said on April 15.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
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.