WASHINGTON — In a demonstration earlier this month, Intelsat and OneWeb provided broadband internet service to U.S. Army users via satellites in low Earth orbit and in geostationary orbit.

The event at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, was an attempt to show Army buyers that satellite communications from LEO and GEO is not an either-or proposition, and both can be seamlessly integrated. 

Intelsat is a global communications firm that operates 52 GEO satellites stationed 22,000 miles above the equator. OneWeb currently has 358 broadband LEO satellites in near polar orbit planes at an altitude of 750 miles.

The demonstration of two-way voice and data downloads was led by Intelsat in an effort to showcase to the Army the benefits of buying managed satcom as a service, as opposed to traditional military procurements of satellite services from individual providers.

Don Claussen, Intelsat’s vice president of business development, said the collaboration between satellite operators and antenna suppliers resulted in seamless service comparable to cellular communications. 

Intelsat and OneWeb “were able to present a single interface to the end user, even though four different terminals were in network, operating over multiple constellations and gateways,” Claussen told SpaceNews. “We can add and subtract capability with no end user intervention.”

GEO and LEO satellite links switched the data flow between orbits automatically, said Claussen, using software to determine which connection provided the best option based on the technical requirements. “It demonstrated that multiple networks can be seamlessly integrated in a way that the capabilities are aggregated in real time, as opposed to being ‘switched between.’”

The software brings it all together into one single stream, he said. “How we pull it all together on the backend is critical.” So instead of just routing and choosing the best connection available at the time, Claussen said. “we were able to blend all of that capacity.”

Three satellite links were established for the demo – one with Intelsat 37 and one with Galaxy 18 satellites, and one with the OneWeb constellation. 

Intelsat 37 and OneWeb individually provide roughly 50 megabits per second downlink. “But when all the terminals were up, we were getting about 100 megabits per second,” he explained. “We can blend all that traffic. And when one network would exit and the other one would come up, no connections were lost because we blend across them.”

The satellites communicated through four types of terminals: Kymeta U8, SatCube, Lite Coms and OneWeb’s Intellian.

The traffic was routed through two Intelsat gateways in Atlanta, Georgia, and in Fuchsstadt, Germany. Claussen said OneWeb’s Intellian antennas connected with the LEO network and downlinked data to the OneWeb gateway and into Intelsat’s network. An Army network contractor, Linchpin Solutions, also supported the demonstration. 

Claussen said the intent of this demonstration was to give the Army a taste of managed satcom services although the Army has yet to articulate specifically what it needs or what it plans to buy. 

“The first question I get is ‘can we connect a military satcom asset to this?’” Claussen said. “And the answer is yes.” The only issue there is cybersecurity and how to ensure higher levels of protection for military satellites that are integrated in a commercial network. 

“We need to move into a variable trust environment,” Claussen said. “And we have some ideas about how to do that.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...