In our last article on the Government Satellite Report, we sat down with Robert “Rigs” Rigsby of SES Space and Defense to discuss the future technologies and capabilities that the U.S. Army is looking to enable on the battlefield, and the connectivity requirements that these new technologies create. We also discussed the new O3b mPOWER satellite service and how it could help the Army meet these requirements.
During our conversation, Rigs explained how latency is a roadblock to embracing some advanced technologies – including augmented reality (AR) and cloud solutions – in theater, and why removing latency from the equation can make military operations and decision making better.
In the second part of our discussion, we asked Rigs about the differences in throughput and capacity between traditional GEO satellites and the next-generation HTS spacecraft that will comprise the mPOWER constellation at Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). We asked about security and mission assurance, and the benefits that next-generation satellites can deliver in this area, and we talked about the other tertiary benefits of mPOWER that should excite senior leaders in the Army.
Here is the second part of our conversation:
Government Satellite Report (GSR): What is connectivity typically like at the very tip of the spear? What kind of capabilities does this enable at the Forward Operating Base (FOB)? What is limiting the capabilities that the Army can access in the field?
Rigs: For a standard GEO satellite, the maximum on a transponder size would be 72 MHz per transponder. The ability to push anything higher is limited and finite. Not only do you have a constellation that’s sitting farther out in space in geostationary orbit, but it’s also limited as to what it can do per transponder and per satellite.
The ability to aggregate multiple transponders across different satellites is very challenging and difficult. This means that the Army is limited in capacity and latency, and lacks scalability. This can be a real problem when you consider the large data and file transfer requirements at the FOB.
mPOWER can deliver up to 1.25 GB of continuous bandwidth, which eliminates the limitations facing GEO because of its fixed transponder sizes. With mPOWER, the user can scale their capacity from 1 Mb to 100 Mb to 1000 Mb at the drop of a hat. And that capacity is delivered at incredibly high power. That has traditionally been a problem for GEO satellites, since your ground terminals need more power to communicate with the satellite – requiring larger, higher-powered antennas and terminals. This enables O3b mPOWER users to utilize small form factor terminals and still receive high throughputs and capacity.
The O3b mPOWER constellation will have more than 50,000 beams—5,000 per satellite—at its disposal. Those beams are incredibly high powered and can be pointed to any asset that the Army needs. This will enable us to provide the amount of capacity needed – with very low latency – to a small form factor terminal practically anywhere on Earth. That is game-changing.
GSR: When it comes to military communications, mission assurance is always a hot topic. What mission assurance and security benefits does mPOWER deliver?
Rigs: mPOWER’s security and mission assurance comes from the size and power of its beams, as well as its flexibility. mPOWER’s beams can be easily steered and repositioned in real-time from Earth. This same flexibility also allows the beams – and the traffic they carry – to be made almost imperceptible to the adversary.
“…O3b mPOWER…allows military customers to dictate where they want their network topology and how they want it to look. And that can be changed on demand.” – Robert “Rigs” Rigsby
Flexibility really is the key here. mPOWER gives users control of the satellites – to a certain degree. Military users can steer the beams to the geographical areas in which they’re operating. They can steer them away from sources of interference or jamming. mPOWER also allows users to operate their own private network topology.
That’s something revolutionary and unique to O3b mPOWER – it allows military customers to dictate where they want their network topology and how they want it to look. And that can be changed on demand. This gives them even more autonomy – the ability to shape and steer their network and communications infrastructure. This enables the military to deceive adversaries using spoofing capabilities.
Finally, the satellites move. Being at MEO, there is a change over every 26 minutes as one satellite passes out of range a new one enters. That means that every 26 minutes, military users are on another satellite. This makes it incredibly difficult for adversaries to track satellites down, jam them, or otherwise cause problems.
Ultimately, mPOWER gives the government customer the autonomy, security, and the control of a satellite constellation that they’ve never had before from a commercial partner.
GSR: Let’s talk about the capacity of O3b mPOWER. What kind of capacity is possible with this service? How does that compare to what is available now?
Rigs: What the government has now – in regard to gateway sizes – for their tactical or regional hub nodes are these pretty big satellite dishes. I think the smallest size of a dish for a tactical hub is 3.7 meters, and that goes all the way up to 7.2 meters at the regional hubs. And even with antennas and terminals of that size, the Army is still limited to throughputs in the 36 MHz-72 MHz range.
Their ability to scale from there is limited to their transponder number and size. If the Army only has one satellite with only one transponder on it servicing a region, they have no ability to scale. In that situation, to increase their capacity and throughputs, they would have to put another large ground terminal up and point it to another satellite. The end result is either limited capacity, or an infinite number of enormous satellite dishes pointing at different satellites.
With mPOWER, a 2.4 meter dish can easily do what a 4.8 meter dish does with a GEO satellite. The number and size of terminals can be cut in half because it’s scalable. This means that the Army doesn’t have to worry about running out of resources or capacity. If they need to scale from 0.5 Mb to 50 Mb to 100 Mb to 1000 Mb, mPOWER gives them that flexibility.
GSR: In addition to the innovating in space, SES is also innovating on earth – intruding the Adaptive Resource Control (ARC) advanced space network management system. Why should the Army care about ARC? What will it do for them?
Rigs: I spent 25 years operating the electromagnetic spectrum for the military and the special operations community. Without fail one of the first things that had to be done was to deconflict everything that connects to a satellite – including every individual satellite voice handset. Every transmitter and emitter had to be deconflicted manually. Every frequency that was being used inside of the satellite constellation had to be deconflicted.
“O3b mPOWER offers the ability to reuse spectrum, which increases the amount of different devices, vehicles and platforms that can connect to the satellite.” – Robert “Rigs” Rigsby
And that was necessary for everything operating on a frequency in any domain. We had to ensure that an armored land vehicle, an aircraft flying overhead, and a ground station with comms-at-the-halt were all operating on different frequencies. We would work to ensure they were all on different frequencies, and then hope that we didn’t run out of frequencies before accomplishing the mission.
O3b mPOWER offers the ability to reuse spectrum, which increases the amount of different devices, vehicles and platforms that can connect to the satellite. Even better, the ARC system enables automated deconfliction, so that every satellite phone, manpack or small form factor terminal using mPOWER can be operating in the same space and same satellite as the aerial vehicle and the camp post. They can run underneath each other. And that is all done automatically by the ARC solution.
ARC is incredibly smart and intuitive. And it ultimately allows satellite resources to be maximized efficiently and effectively on a global scale.
GSR: mPOWER is not the first or only satellite service orbiting in MEO that offers low latency. How does O3b mPOWER compare to traditional O3b?
Rigs: The main and largest difference is the global capability. The merits of O3b classic have proven themselves for low latency, high-bandwidth solutions. But there are only 200 beams. And each one of those beams has a 450 mile radius. That makes O3b classic a finite solution with only so much capacity available to users.
A geographic combatant commander wants a solution that’s going to be available when and where they need it. They want a services that gives them a global end-to-end capability. And while O3b classic has been a game-changer in so many areas, mPOWER is exponentially improved in that area.
O3b mPOWER enables more scalability. It’s more flexible and portable. The service can be turned off in a region where it’s not needed, and then turned on somewhere else, as the mission requires. If the mission requires troops to have connectivity in Africa one day, and then Pakistan the next, the service can be turned off, moved, and turned back on in that new area of operations.
O3b mPOWER gives military users portability and scalability. And those are two big things that aren’t available with O3b classic today.
GSR: You’ve laid out multiple benefits of O3b mPOWER over traditional GEO satellite and even O3b classic. So, if you were a senior decision maker in the Army, right now, what would make you the most excited about mPOWER?
Rigs: What would be most exciting for me would be that – for the very first time, as a senior leader in the military – I would be able to fight with the gloves off and the limitations removed.
Right now, our military is fighting through and around established barriers to our success. mPOWER is allowing commanders to fight at the speed of war. It’s allowing them to command and control in the battle space, at the tactical edge, with all of the advanced technologies available to them, in real-time.
With O3b mPOWER, they can scale, add, decrease, and increase the satellite services at their disposal. They’re no longer limited to the confines of a GEO satellite solution. With mPOWER, they can push huge amounts of traffic to anywhere in the world.
For additional information about how HTS satellites at MEO can reduce latency and enable next-generation technologies on the battlefield, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of the whitepaper, “High Throughput Satellites for U.S. Government Applications.”