The United Kingdom is turning to the aerospace industry, the telecommunications sector and the banking community to establish a new web of military communications satellites based on commercial technologies. Under a novel acquisition approach, the Ministry of Defence is seeking a contractor that will be a service provider rather than a hardware deliverer.
Researchers are adapting voice over Internet protocol technology to establish communication between Earth and spacecraft, satellites, and, perhaps someday, other planets. Using modified commercial approaches, scientists will design space-based and mobile Internet standards that provide access to science mission data and interactive communication with inhabited and uninhabited spacecraft. These technologies also will become the connection to a future Mars-based communications infrastructure.
The final frontier is about to become home to another layer of military capabilities with the launch of TacSat-1 and lift-off of a new concept for space-based assets. The launch, which is scheduled for late this month, is the first step toward tactically exploiting space and represents a dramatic change of the entire business model for designing and purchasing space-based systems. Providing warfighters with operationally responsive satellite communications, the scheme will enable military commanders to act more quickly and effectively in battle.
The NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency is exploring the use of digital video broadcast technology in both satellite and terrestrial versions. The technology would support the organization's requirement for a system that can distribute large volumes of information to strategic, deployed and mobile nodes simultaneously at very high transfer rates.
The newly independent U.S. Air Force Space Command is focusing on integrating exo-atmospheric operations with lower altitude activities, including ground campaigns. These operations in space, which range from communications to precision guiding of munitions, are becoming less of a separate warfighting aspect and more of a united element of high-technology network-centric warfare.
More than 10 years after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Defense Department is shedding old constructs from that period that have been hindering the department's new thrust into space. A major component of these changes places the primary responsibility for acquiring and launching military space systems in the hands of the U.S. Air Force. Within the service, new commands and offices also are being established to interface with homeland security efforts and joint organizations such as the U.S. Northern Command.
The French military is enhancing its global communications capabilities with a new generation of dedicated satellites designed to simultaneously link several theaters of operation. The spacecraft features multiple antennas operating on different radio frequencies that can be aimed to provide highly focused, secure links to mobile and fixed groundstations.
Military space activities increasingly are resembling their more terrestrial counterparts as their presence grows in military operations. The aboveworldly realm now has its own specific communications networks, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors and even weather reports. Soon, it may feature new reusable transport systems and weapons designed to maintain supremacy in the highest frontier.
The U.S. Defense Department's new generation of military communications satellites will be both forward-looking and backward compatible. They will introduce state-of-the-art capabilities with flexibility for upgrades, and they will be able to interoperate seamlessly with existing Milstar satellites.
A rare launch window is giving the U.S. Defense Department a chance to plan its next generation of space-based communications systems around both innovation and interoperability. This launch window does not involve a single mission. Rather, it encompasses the entire family of military communications satellites now on the drawing board.