In our last article on the Government Satellite Report, we featured part one of an exclusive two-part interview with Ryan Reid, the President of Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems, International. Our conversation with Ryan occurred following an exclusive VIP “sneak peek” offered by Boeing and its customer SES, to the O3b mPOWER satellites.
Both SES and Boeing have touted the satellites that will comprise the O3b mPOWER service as revolutionary in their capacity, flexibility, latency, and automation. Those features are among the reasons why many companies – including Microsoft and four of the top five major cruise companies– have contracted for service on the system before it’s even launched.
In the second part of our conversation with Ryan, we explore what makes the O3b mPOWER service so automated, what that automation means for users, and how the flexibility and scalability of O3b mPOWER could open the door for advanced capabilities specifically for government and military users.
Government Satellite Report (GSR): In addition to the drastically increased throughputs, SES has often touted mPOWER as a more scalable and automated solution that can give users more control over their satellite service, while also making satellite easier to use. How is this being accomplished? What advancements are making these satellites more scalable and automated?
Ryan Reid: With a new generation of software defined satellites, there is an inherent complexity involved. With this satellite infrastructure, we’ve worked to bake in the necessary automation of that complexity – management of that complexity – onto the satellite. This means that we’re not driving the complexity down to the ground systems and end-users.
SES is able to manage the asset like a network switch. And the end-users that have access to the network don’t have to worry about that complexity. They can engage at the network edge as a network guest. This simplifies the end user’s ability to get the resources that they need when they need them. It doesn’t push complexity onto the user. It makes their lives easier – not harder.
With the systems and automation that we’re building into the satellites and system, an end-user can have an iPad out in the field and simply increase the bandwidth that’s available, direct service to different geographic regions, or move capacity around, all through control of the network.
When it comes to the military, planning resources is a huge endeavor that involves coordinating across multiple offices. We’ve taken a lot of work away by making the allocation of resources much easier and much more agile – enabling scalability as missions requirements change. That’s where the automation comes in – resource management through the SES ARC system that is complemented by the avionics and intelligence in the spacecraft, itself.
“By enabling the command and control function to get the data they need to make better decisions in the field, government and military users can increase the speed of decision-making. That can be a real game-changer.” – Ryan Reid, Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems
Here’s an example of how this might look in the field. If a military customer needs to backhaul data from a special operations mission or ISR platform, they could almost instantaneously allocate a large swath of bandwidth to the location, exfiltrate data, and then move that bandwidth somewhere else where it’s needed just a few minutes later. And all of that is possible without having to go through weeks-long coordination within the government.
GSR: Why is automation and scalability like this useful for government and military users? What would this mean for the actual “boots on the ground” users of satellite and applications delivered via satellite?
Ryan Reid: What that means is that their experience of getting data and connectivity looks and feels like they’re at home. If we need situational awareness, weather reports, or access to reporting, they can simply log in and get that. It’s available.
It means that they don’t need special radio or satellite operators radioing back and getting that information. They have their ruggedized devices that they can log into, connect and get the information that they need when they need it. It’s connectivity in the field on par with what they have back in headquarters or back at home.
“[O3b mPOWER] simplifies the end user’s ability to get the resources that they need when they need them. It doesn’t push complexity onto the user. It makes their lives easier – not harder.” – Ryan Reid, Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems
This means more access, more coordination, and better communications. This means command and control in real-time from the tactical front line. Real-time data for more informed decision-making. And better access to MWR services and capabilities because there is no longer a need to choose between MWR capabilities and mission-critical applications.
GSR: mPOWER has been touted for its ability to give users control over the size and allocation of forward and return beams. Why would this be useful for government or military users? What could this enable them to do?
Ryan Reid: The symmetry of forward and return beams can enable military and government users to push decision-making out to the tactical edge. By enabling the command and control function to get the data they need to make better decisions in the field, government and military users can increase the speed of decision-making. That can be a real game-changer.
Ultimately, the government and military don’t want tactical operators sitting around waiting for data or intelligence. They also want the data and intelligence that is available to them to be as up-to-date and real-time as possible. A symmetric forward and return beam – enabling data to be pushed and received in real-time – can enable that.
O3b mPOWER eliminates the return link restraints that government and military users faced with previous systems, including other, traditional HTS (high-throughput satellite) systems. Typically, these systems were designed with an asymmetric forward and return. Most of the data was pushed out, and very little is received.
“…the need for ubiquitous connectivity is only becoming more essential. O3b mPOWER is going to be a major player in enabling the government to embrace modern applications, cloud services, and other next-generation solutions at the tactical edge.” – Ryan Reid, Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems
O3b mPOWER enables symmetric forward and return, if necessary, but it also delivers the flexibility and agility to change that based on the mission requirements. If the user needs a full 2.5 GHZ return beam over an ISR platform to quickly and efficiently pull data off of that platform, they can enable that. If they need to push 2.5 GHZ to a vehicle to push a software update, they can enable that. If they need to direct a number of return beams into an area to locate a lost unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), they can do that, too.
GSR: When it comes to government users – especially the military – resiliency and security are of paramount importance. What has been implemented in the O3b mPOWER satellites to make them more resilient and secure? What is inherent in these satellites and their orbit that makes them more assured for government and military users?
Ryan Reid: Boeing has several decades of experience in the development of commercial and government platforms. There are a great number of best practices and lessons learned from decades of designing and building military satellites that we’ve leveraged in the design and construction of the O3b mPOWER satellites.
While the 702X platform employs a lot of new technologies and the software defined payload is revolutionary, the backbone of the satellite is based on the 702 platform that has a long history of performance, mission assurance and reliability. We want to build satellites that exceed their mission lives. We don’t want to fix what’s not broken, but we also want to innovate. So, we innovated on a highly reliable, highly proven platform in the 702 platform.
The constellation’s operation in the MEO orbit delivers inherent resiliency. There are multiple satellites moving overhead at high velocity. If an asset is compromised, another is coming by shortly thereafter, which delivers inherent resiliency. There are typically multiple satellites in a field of view, which creates a resilient system through asset diversity and redundancy.
“If a military customer needs to backhaul data from a special operations mission or ISR platform, they could almost instantaneously allocate a large swath of bandwidth to the location, exfiltrate data, and then move that bandwidth somewhere else where it’s needed just a few minutes later.” – Ryan Reid, Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems
From a security standpoint, we have employed CNSSP-12 security, including command and telemetry links have been encrypted to the highest standard for non-government-owned assets. There are multiple layers of security, resiliency and reliability that all work together to make this a highly available, secure, and reliable system for the military.
GSR: Big picture, how do you see O3b mPOWER changing the way global governments operate off-grid and at the tactical edge? How will it revolutionize how they operate in the field?
Ryan Reid: Having broadband network access at the edge allows access to information and communication for decision making, training exercises, remote medicine, remote connectivity and other capabilities at a scale that isn’t currently available.
This is an important supplement to the assets the military currently uses. There are a lot of different choices for government comms over commercial and the flexibility and scale that O3b mPOWER delivers has the potential to be revolutionary.
As the government continues to embrace digital transformation and embraces network-enabled services and applications across all of its operations, the need for ubiquitous connectivity is only becoming more essential. O3b mPOWER is going to be a major player in enabling the government to embrace modern applications, cloud services, and other next-generation solutions at the tactical edge.
For additional information about how Ob3 mPOWER can 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.”