Air Force commits millions to demonstrate ‘Space Internet’

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Constellations of spacecraft spanning different orbits would be explored to provide connectivity.

The Air Force plans to enable and demonstrate a space internet that the military can use to connect and communicate via constellations of commercial spacecraft operating in various orbits. 

In a presolicitation the Air Force Research Laboratory released this week, officials confirmed intent to award two to five contracts worth up to $40 million each for “multi-band, multi-orbit communication experiments.” 

The work would span a couple years, and AFRL already has sights set on some use cases of interest.

“Satellite communications in the Arctic region, above 55-degrees latitude, are currently extremely limited,” officials wrote in the announcement. “Emerging commercial space internet constellations may offer an opportunity to rapidly and affordably provide unprecedented communications capacity to this region, on par with that available in lower latitudes.” 

Another application the lab is exploring is for airborne communications.

These experiments mark the latest component of the lab’s Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet, or DEUCSI program, which originally launched in 2017. Specifically, the service aims to connect military platforms through multiple commercial space internet constellations in different orbit regimes—such as low-, medium-, and geosynchronous earth orbits using the emerging “common user terminal” capabilities. Ideally, military users would be able to tap into services from different providers or orbits, depending on their needs.

“Future military operations will be multi-domain and will be conducted with unprecedented speed,” officials wrote. “Establishing and maintaining dominance in such a scenario requires the ability to distribute information from, to, and through all domains and make decisions at a speed our adversaries cannot match.” 

The deadline for proposals from those interested in participating in this effort is set for Dec. 15, 2023. 

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