According to Yahoo News, SpaceX won a $28.7 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory to experiment with data connectivity entailing ground sites, and aircraft and space assets. The contract was awarded in December 2018, with work scheduled to finish by mid-2021; the work is contracted to be completed in Hawthorne, Calif., where SpaceX’s headquarters are located.
The contract comes as part of the Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet program, which enables the Air Force to communicate via multiple satellite internet services while using “common hardware elements.” Yahoo News says “That strategy would make it possible for the Air Force to switch data service providers easily — for example, if new providers decide to enter the market, or if existing providers decide to leave it.”
The contract also demonstrates how the U.S. military wants to take advantage of the global broadband access that other star constellations in low orbit provide, similar to the one Elon Musk wants to build for usage in the civilian market.
“The Air Force said it was setting aside $19.1 million from its current fiscal 2019 budget for research, development, test and evaluation,” Yahoo News says. “The Air Force Research Laboratory, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, is the contracting authority.”
Here’s what decision makers can expect out of the satellite experiments:
Yahoo News says that SpaceX’s involvement with this will begin with connectivity demonstrations involving aircraft and Air Force ground sites. From there, a second phase would bring forth two additional experiments, including “commercial space-to-space data relay service and mobile connectivity directly from a space-based network to aircraft.”
The experiments that will be conducted with data connectivity “mesh well with SpaceX’s Starlink development effort, which calls for putting as many as 12,000 satellites in low Earth orbit,” Yahoo News says. There’s a chance the first satellites could be launched next year, and the initial data network could be ready to use sometime between 2020-2021.