Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend SATELLITE 2016, one of the satellite industry’s largest and most influential conferences and expositions. The event, which was hosted at the Gaylord National Convention Center, in National Harbor, MD, brought together industry leaders, satellite experts and government decision makers to discuss the future of the industry, new and emerging satellite technologies and the trends that will shape the way SATCOM is utilized across the government and private industry today and into the future.
One of the overarching themes at this year’s event was technological “disruption”. The theme wasn’t negative, as in satellite disruption from jamming or interference – although that was discussed at length – but rather optimistic in evaluating disruptive technologies that are going to shake up the industry and impact how the satellite industry operates.
High-throughput satellites (HTS) were atop the list of disruptive technologies discussed.
Every major satellite operator either has launched – or is in the process of launching – HTS satellite constellations. This new generation of satellites has the potential to deliver incredible capabilities and benefits to government agencies, military services and other users simply due to its incredible increase in bandwidth resulting from its ability to take advantage of frequency reuse. This means that each individual satellite can deliver exponentially more data at incredibly higher throughputs than traditional, wideband satellites.
This is extremely essential for military and civilian government organizations, whose demand for reliable connectivity extends beyond the reach of terrestrial networks and out into the field where SATCOM connectivity is the most viable option. HTS enables a high-speed, high-bandwidth experience that is accessible in even the most austere environments. HTS also enables many of the advanced capabilities the military needs in the field, including the delivery of high-quality, real-time intelligence data.
This need was echoed in the remarks of Aneal Krishman, who not only serves as a Principal at Veritas Capital, but also served in Iraq as an infantryman with the U.S. Army Reserve. During a panel discussion titled, “Disruptions and Opportunities: MilSatCom and ComSatCom in Both Space and Ground Segments,” Aneal said, “In Iraq, most of the bandwidth we were using and the technology that was set up, was over commercial networks that were dedicated to the government….for example, the drone program…”
But why is HTS considered disruptive? The answer lies in the cumulative launch of HTS satellites across the industry and the government’s corresponding ability to leverage the advanced capabilities. In some cases, one single HTS satellite can deliver the same capacity as an entire constellation of traditional, wide-band GEO satellites. The result will be the government’s ability to acquire more satellite bandwidth, capacity and capabilities without having to increase spending.
That disruption is important to the evolution of our national space architecture, especially today. Discretionary government funding for social programs, military modernization and homeland security priorities has proven to be limited, leaving many to cut back their spending and reprioritize where they’re putting scarce budget dollars. Leaders on the various panels at Satellite 2016 certainly recognized fiscal realities and were actively engaged in discussions on how best to leverage the commercial market.
Cost efficiencies and budgets aside, there are other benefits to leveraging commercial HTS constellations. One of which is the ability to utilize this technology sooner.
COMSATCOM providers actively replenish their respective satellite fleets. This means that they’re constantly ordering, provisioning and launching new satellites with exciting new capabilities and innovative new technologies. This includes new HTS constellations that are now either launched or will be launched in the very near future.
The same innovative HTS technologies are available to the government through the satellite manufacturers, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and SSL. However, by the time they allocate budget dollars, compete contracts, select vendors, build satellites, schedule launch and bring that satellite online, years could have passed.
In those years in which the government was, “building it themselves,” there was most likely a similar satellite being built and launched – or already operated – by a COMSATCOM company. Simply put, integrating COMSATCOM into a wider architecture will facilitate technology insertion at commercial industry’s pace and deliver HTS technology to the military – and the advanced capabilities it delivers to the warfighter – much sooner.
This isn’t just sentiment or verbiage espoused solely by the COMSATCOM industry and service providers. Military decision makers have openly acknowledged their inability to keep pace with the COMSATCOM industry. In fact, Doug Loverro, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy at the Department of Defense (DoD) was quoted as saying, “In order to keep pace with the ever-expanding user need. And the users are incorporating new technologies – video, Internet, streaming services and more we haven’t thought of yet – as fast as the commercial world produces them on the ground. We can’t go ahead and maintain that pace of change in space. The only people that can maintain that rate of change in space is the commercial world.”
Mr. Loverro went on to identify many of the aforementioned economic and process challenges as contributing factors to this disparity between government and industry, citing the WGS satellite constellation as an example. “[The DoD] defined WGS in the 1996 budget that we submitted to the President. That system was defined twenty years ago. The systems that are being launched by the commercial world today were defined two years ago…three years ago. They’re not subject to the bureaucratic process and – quite frankly – the economic process that drive DoD decision makers. And that’s critical because it allows new technology to be ingested.”
The commercial satellite industry has proven quick to integrate leading edge technology into their fleets without significant delay. The coming disruption of HTS will enable a broader range of COMSATCOM services and solutions to the government – all available at competitive price points.
My time at SATELLITE 2016 reinforced that this truly is an exciting time for the use of COMSATCOM across the military and federal government. The emergence of HTS technology and the launch of next generation HTS constellations not only will provide the bandwidth necessary for truly revolutionary IT services and capabilities in the field, but do so at a drastically reduced cost. The pace at which industry moves will expedite the availability of bandwidth, capacity and advanced capabilities to end users – delivering the connectivity of the future to the tip of the spear today.
To learn more about High Throughput Satellites, click on the resources below: