Boeing, Lockheed Martin vie for major satellite <@SM>program to deliver broadband to the front lines<@VM>Threshold of interplanetary Internet<@VM>Satellite services companies could lose DOD contract
- By James Schultz
- Nov 18, 2004
Joseph Pelton of George Washington University said the departments of Defense and Homeland Security are driving the satellite services market.
Consumers crave it. Gamers insist on it. A mobile, globally deployed, communications-hungry military must have it.
That's why, within eight years, a constellation of six Transformational Satellites (TSATs) will hover roughly 26,200 miles above Earth, wirelessly delivering the equivalent of fast cable-modem service to thousands of troops in the field.
Having "big pipe" capability is a particular priority for the Defense Department, which routinely deploys forces to remote regions that lack hard-wired infrastructure. The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have only underscored the need for rapid, high-speed information exchange.
In late January, the Air Force awarded two study contracts worth $472 million each to the Boeing Co. of Chicago and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., to work out TSAT's design and engineering kinks by March 2006. Boeing and Lockheed lead competing teams vying for the chance to begin building the system in 2007.
The TSAT program is a large example of a growing satellite communications business fueled by both defense and civilian agency needs. David Ryan, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, predicted that the government market for space-based systems will grow from $7.5 billion in 2003 to about $17 billion in 2013.
"Every government space program is being replaced or enhanced," he said.
Of TSAT, Rick Skinner, Lockheed Martin vice president of transformational communications, said: "We're taking technology we know and love on the ground and using it in this new environment of space. It's the equivalent of taking cell phone towers and putting them up very, very high. You're improving quality of service, and it's more reliable."
The $18 billion TSAT communications network would offer improved, jam-resistant, secure and general purpose communications as part of independent but interoperable space-based systems that will support the Defense Department, intelligence community and NASA. Ultimately, TSAT will replace the satellites these agencies use.
Both teams are evaluating advanced laser communications, next-generation processors and routers, enhanced information assurance and more efficient network management. The system will have to guarantee survivable, strategic communications services and high-capacity communications on the move for tactical users, as well as enhanced airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance connectivity.
The design the Pentagon chooses will incorporate these capabilities into an architecture that works both for legacy and future space and ground network systems.
"There isn't any technology that we're using in this project that hasn't been demonstrated commercially. We don't have to invent anything new," Skinner said. "The question is at what price and what period of performance; now we need to package it so it will operate in space. Space is a very difficult physical environment."
SATELLITES AS NODES
Legacy systems no longer can satisfy warfighters' needs for capacity and connectivity, according to Boeing officials. In just the last decade, demand for communications capacity and connectivity grew fivefold as a result of conflicts abroad and terror attacks domestically, they said.
Between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the closing May 2003 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. government satellite communications capacity demands jumped tenfold, secure videoconferencing needs ballooned by more than 20 times, and voice-call requirements proliferated by 39 times.
"Both government and commercial satellite systems are moving away from bent-pipe, analog-satellite relays directed to fixed users, and toward high-power, digitally processed signals sent through multibeam satellite antennas to mobile users and small terminals," said Boeing's Ryan, speaking in April at the 20th annual National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"The future trend is clear: Satellites will be nodes in a network, joining other assets in an architecture that lets people instantly share information generated in the air, at sea, in space or even underwater," Ryan said.
Broadband via satellite is one key enabler in what the government calls the Global Information Grid (GIG), a network-centric system envisioned as providing storage, management and transport of information to support military, national security and related intelligence missions and functions. GIG capabilities will be available from military bases, posts and camps, to way stations, facilities, mobile platforms and warfighter deployments. GIG will interface with allied, coalition and non-GIG systems and provide decision-makers with information and decision superiority -- "full-spectrum dominance," in military parlance.
"The departments of Defense and Homeland Security and DARPA-type research are driving the market in two ways," said Joseph Pelton, director of the Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute at George Washington University in Fairfax, Va. "First, there's the demand for overall capacity. Second, [leaders want] smaller, more user friendly terminals."
The remaining issues are technical and concerned with "on what platforms and at what frequencies the new systems will be deployed," Pelton said. For military applications, typical throughput has increased twelvefold in the past 10 years. Within the decade, rates should increase by 25 times, he said.
CIVILIAN AGENCIES SHOW INTEREST
It's not only the military that's keen on space-enabled broadband. Other government agencies -- DHS, Federal Aviation Administration, State Department and NOAA among them -- would like to boost their remote-sensing and data-collection abilities.
DHS, for example, would find broadband via satellite a useful tool in its ongoing Operation Liberty Shield initiative to reduce the threat of domestic terrorism. As part of that effort, 2,800 National Guard troops have been deployed nationwide to protect key infrastructures, and the Coast Guard has increased protection of pipelines, petrochemical facilities and shipping channels. DHS also has beefed up reconnaissance aircraft patrols on the borders, quadrupled the number of air cargo examinations and relocated hundreds of security personnel to border areas.
"The civilian agencies have a lot of needs," said Kay Sears, senior vice president of sales and marketing for G2 Satellite Solutions, a subsidiary of PanAmSat Corp. of Wilton, Conn. "Dial-up or DSL doesn't cut it anymore. The pipe now has to carry applications like video, data and voice. It's an emerging and growing market fueled by these new applications."
Making the applications possible is an array of supporting services and technologies, market spaces where satellite-support companies are finding a footing. Enablers include laser communications to increase throughput speeds across any space-based backbone; next-generation antenna technologies for secure transmissions to and from small, mobile, terrestrial terminals; and enhanced information assurance to eliminate network vulnerabilities to viral attack or other data compromise.
Government and industry also must consider how information is sent and received. Here again, companies that have the requisite expertise could prosper in the years ahead. Protocols that enable easy communication are as important, if not more so, than the capability of hardware to provide bandwidth. Standards are only beginning to emerge. Where government-dedicated legacy systems are concerned, especially those serving the military, the stovepipes must be broken if the armed forces are to establish effective global data reach.
"Today's standards are not pervasively leveraged across military architectures," said Rick Sanford, director of space initiatives at Cisco Systems Inc., which specializes in Internet networking protocols. "We shouldn't have to build customized specifications [into] every satellite and terminal out there. State-of-the-art network protocols with merged architectures in mind should be standardized. We should be able to provision services and capabilities at much lower cost in a timely fashion."
In the long run, broadband via satellite likely will amplify the trend toward mobile, small and easy. Satellites won't replace fiber-optic line and their huge capacities measured in trillions of bits (terabits) of information. But satellites may provide more connectivity to individual users, whether they're warfighters, border patrol agents or Forest Service specialists monitoring ecological health, according to G2's Sears. Satellite transmissions eventually could funnel to individual users information in the billions-of-bits-per-second range, rather than parcel it out in the megabits-per-second range now standard for cable-modem consumers.
For the immediate future, the contracting bounty appears headed to three types of businesses:
* Large, satellite-building, launch and mission-control companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Corp.
* Terrestrial-support and enabling-technology companies such as Motorola Inc., Raytheon Co. and Rockwell Collins Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
* Providers of platforms and connectivity technologies such as Immarsat, Intelsat and PanAmSat.
"Opportunities are first going to the companies that have the capability of building very-large-scale platforms," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va., a government-sector market research firm. "Beyond that, there should be opportunities for other companies that have specific kinds of protocols and data-processing capabilities that can use these big pipes. There are many potential applications in many different sectors."
Lockheed's Skinner agreed. Broadband via satellite "is a big deal in the federal marketspace," he said. "When everything is up and running, suddenly there are a bunch more customers. You'll see a much larger need for new applications we haven't thought of yet." *
James Schultz is a freelance writer living in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-mailing Manila, Macau, from Manhattan may have become routine. But how about messaging Mars? Or the Moon? Or the moons of Jupiter? According to interplanetary Internet proponents, in coming decades, even far-flung solar system outposts could be just a few keystrokes away.
Before any deployment, however, designers will have to devise workarounds for several vexing problems. One is high latency; an e-mail sent from Earth to Mars, for example, would take as long as eight minutes to reach the Red Planet. Distant Pluto, the solar system's outermost planet, is at least six hours away. Difficulties with distance are compounded by hazards from radiation and cosmic rays, which can damage equipment and degrade signal fidelity.
Any interplanetary Internet also would have to take into account planetary rotation and orbital motion that would routinely take a transmitting entity out of the line of sight of a receiving entity. Network traffic hubs wouldn't be hundreds of miles apart, but hundreds of millions of miles distant. Nor would there be optical-fiber connections. All interplanetary data transmission would have to be via radio waves or laser light.
Nevertheless, organizers press on. A study of the ways an interplanetary Internet might be organized is under way, underwritten by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and including researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mitre Corp., several private sector firms and a handful of universities, including UCLA and CalTech. Specialists are investigating how terrestrial Internet protocols and techniques may be adapted or reworked to withstand the rigors of deep space.
At least one fledgling proof-of-concept effort already has been carried out. In February, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit and the European Space Agency Mars Express orbiter communicated while Mars Express was flying over the area Spirit was examining. The ESA orbiter transferred commands from Earth to the rover and relayed data from the robotic explorer back to Earth. It was the first time that spacecraft from NASA and ESA had communicated and, according to NASA spokesperson Jennifer Trosper, the first demonstration of "an international interplanetary communications network established at Mars."
In the short run, interplanetary Internet research could have an earthly payoff. Techniques under review could lead to development of more latency- and fault-tolerant communications networks -- a welcome development for frustrated cell-phone users knocked offline when they move between different coverage areas. Also under study are enhanced security procedures protocols and more effective "store-and-forward" techniques that will likely make Earthbound
e-mailing more reliable.
But until someone is willing to underwrite hardware development and launch costs, any next-generation, space-based Internet remains grist for the science-fiction mill.
For more information, visit http://www.ipnsig.org/home.htm.
"The department has procured more commercial satellite service than at any other point in history, at lower cost and with greater flexibility of terms and conditions." ? Mary Ann Elliott, Arrowhead Global Solutions, Inc.
David S. Spence
A dispute is brewing as the Defense Department tries to figure out whether to keep buying commercial satellite services via resellers or deal with satellite carriers directly.
DOD's satellite bandwidth use in Iraq is soaring, and it will take years for the military to launch enough satellites to fulfill its bandwidth needs. Leaping into the breach, commercial providers are trying to stake out more military business. The Pentagon needs commercial satellite services, for example, to support the operations of unmanned aerial vehicles and other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors, as well as for voice communications.
The amount of commercial bandwidth purchased by the department jumped to 3.2 Gbps from 305 Mbps in 2001 as the war began in Afghanistan -- a tenfold increase, according to Pravin Jain, chief scientist of the Defense Information Systems Agency's Global Information Grid engineering directorate.
Jain and other speakers at last month's Satellite Application Technology Conference and Expo in New York said the military is so short of communications capacity in Iraq that it has had to acquire 80 percent of its bandwidth from commercial carriers.
Currently, the Defense Department relies on the $2 billion Defense Satellite Transmission Services-Global contract, held by Arrowhead Global Solutions Inc. of Falls Church, Va., Artel Inc. of Reston, Va., and Spacelink International LLC of Dulles, Va.
These companies compete among themselves to provide satellite services to the military, and they make the satellite carriers compete to provide the communications piece of their task orders.
Now, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office are debating how to procure cheap, long-term commercial satellite services in bulk and whether to start buying directly from carriers rather than continue dealing with intermediaries. Their report is due in April, and command and control security is the top issue.
Carriers affiliated with the Satellite Industry Association of Alexandria, Va. -- EutelSat, IntelSat, Loral Space and Communications Ltd., New Skies Satellites, PanAmSat Corp., and SES Americom Government Services Division -- collectively have lobbied the Pentagon to buy directly from them, arguing that this would be less expensive.
"Where it's bulk capacity with no added value from an intermediary, the carriers want to deal directly with DOD," said Leslie Blaker, a vice president at SES Americom.
But small-business prime contractors for the DSTS-G satellite services contract disagree. Arrowhead President and CEO Mary Ann Elliott said DISA's cost per megahertz is 40 percent lower than it was before DSTS-G.
"The department has procured more commercial satellite service than at any other point in history, at lower cost and with greater flexibility of terms and conditions," she said.
Artel president Abbas Yazdani said, "We buy excess capacity. We go out to everybody to get the lowest price and best value. We might present a choice of a half-dozen solutions" for end-to-end service provisioning to the other side of the world. The provisioning sometimes requires negotiating with foreign carriers for land lines, terminals, undersea optical-fiber cable and teleport media junctions.
"We went to war together" with the military, Yazdani said. "We work in the warfighters' interest, not the carriers.'"
However, it's unclear whether DOD intends to exercise the options on the DSTS-G satellite services contract, which just completed its three base years. Pentagon officials remain mum about a possible cancellation of the 10-year deal, but spokeswoman Betsy Flood said no funds are currently obligated toward the contract.
Susan Menke of Government Computer News can be reached at email@example.com.