WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force will fund demonstrations of space internet services where military users can access broadband services from commercial constellations in different orbits. 

The Air Force Research Laboratory announced plans for these demonstrations in a Jan. 31 solicitation. The military wants to be able to use internet services from satellites in geosynchronous, medium and low orbits relying on a common user terminal, a capability that is being marketed by the industry but AFRL wants to see further demonstrated.

Companies are asked to submit proposals for multi-orbit, multi-band networks where users can switch between space internet providers as needed.

The experiments are part of an AFRL program called Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI), launched in 2017 to explore how emerging services like SpaceX’s Starlink, OneWeb and others could be integrated with traditional satcom networks and be used to support military operations. 

The new DEUCSI solication says AFRL plans to fund anywhere from two to five “multi-Band, multi-orbit communication” experiments over the next two years under contracts that could be worth up to $40 million per experiment, depending on available government funding. 

AFRL says it will not accept pitches that focus on a single satellite system. “Solutions that are capable of operation on a single satellite constellation are not of interest,” says the request. It wants ideas to “smartly integrate multiple one-vendor commercial terminals to create a low-cost and highly flexible capability.”

An example of a use case sought by the military is communications for the Arctic region. 

“Satellite communications in the Arctic region, above 55-degrees latitude, are currently extremely limited. 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,” says the request.

Another is airborne communications. The military is interested in satcom terminals that can switch between services from different vendors with little or no hardware modification.

AFRL says it will consider proposals that involve satellite constellations already in operation as well as those that have publicly announced plans to begin service in the near future, such as Amazon Kuiper, Telesat Lightspeed and Astranis.

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...