Today, our technologies are enabling disaggregation. For example, Thales is the prime contractor for the Iridium NEXT initiative. Scheduled for full operational service in 2017, Iridium NEXT will be the world's largest low-orbit constellation of telecom satellites. It is designed to gradually replace the current Iridium constellation, while also adding new functionality for improved mobile services. The constellation is based on 66 operational satellites split in 6 orbital planes of 11 satellites each, plus six in-orbit spares and nine ground spares – a total of 81 satellites.
On Iridium NEXT, communications routing is not via a ground network, but rather via the cross-linked satellites, according to a "smart" mesh architecture. This design ensures global coverage, while doing away with the need for ground telecom networks. This “smart” in-orbit routing is enabled thanks to the use of computers having the most advanced embedded software technologies. This independence from any ground network allows the Iridium system to be highly resistant to disruptions. Iridium NEXT will offer higher data speeds, flexible bandwidth allocation, and IP-based routing, making Iridium NEXT a privately-held but significant space resource for future civil and military operations.
Back on Earth, Thales will also be a developer and manufacturer of ground-based technology for the Iridium Certus broadband service provided by Iridium NEXT. Iridium Certus will support a portfolio of partner manufactured, multi-service products with a broad range of data speeds. Initial data speeds will reach 352 kb/s and will feature voice service operating at two times the current Iridium rate. Eventually, data rates will run as high as 1.4 megabits per second for a single user terminal after Iridium NEXT deployment is complete.
The Iridium NEXT initiative reflects the larger reality that in the commercial and government space, the future of space-based communications technology resides with high-throughput satellites (HTS). Last year, the total world commercial satellite market was 53 percent non-HTS, 35 percent partial and 12 percent full HTS. The HTS proportion of the market will likely double in the next few years, driven by government and consumer demand for data.
NASA’s Earth Observation data, for example, reached 9 petabytes of data in 2014, and adds 6.4 terabytes of data to its archives and distributes 28 TB of data to 11,000 unique users around the world every day. On the commercial side, consumer broadband subscribers over satellite are projected to reach 6.5 million by 2023, and demanding bandwidth of about 1.2 Tbps.
To meet the high-throughput demand, Thales will work on satellite platforms that are smaller and more flexible then their predecessors – without sacrificing performance. Our Spacebus NEO is just one example of a competitive, flexible and multi-launcher-capable satellite. In 2015, Thales was chosen to provide a new HTS based on the Spacebus Neo platform for broadband to users in Africa. Scheduled to launch in 2019, the satellite will provide 75 Gbps of capacity across a network that will provide nearly complete coverage of Sub-Saharan Africa.
With Thales bringing so many new opportunities to bear in the space environment it is expected that these will bring new transformative capabilities to our military and commercial customers – capabilities which will need to be secure.
People and businesses want to be connected everywhere they go, whether it’s to feel a sense of security when traveling, to track and manage commercial assets or even be connected in the most remote parts of the globe.
But security concerns linger. Ten percent of consumers do not feel confident at all that the security of their personal data is protected on the Internet and, therefore, never share information. Forty-four percent of consumers are not always confident about personal data security and, therefore, are careful about what they share and what websites they visit.
The Pentagon also has concerns about security as networks are created to link the Internet of Things (IoT) – a global technology phenomenon that is expected to connect 20.8 billion items by 2020. Richard Hale, deputy chief information officer for cyber security at the Defense Department recently told National Defense that “The Internet of Things, especially as we get more and more autonomous and more of this is real-time control system sort of stuff — it’s going to make really bad decisions if information isn’t right or if it’s not coming from a genuine, trustworthy.”
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also highlighted the problem posed by “bandwidth constrained” environments. “The risk aversion of many military figures is based on the fact that if systems fail, people die,” he said. “Nobody wants to be calling IoT support from a foxhole saying, … ‘My smartphone isn’t working [and] I can’t accomplish my mission.’”
For both military and civilian environments these security risks must be contained – risks well understood by Thales.
The proliferation of networked communications must occur in tandem with enhanced security. This is the only way to ensure that enabled networks can actually perform a “data-crunch” on the battlefield without counter-intelligence interference from “seeking eyes.”
The hardware, software and networks must govern their environments effectively without being over burdensome, while effectively controlling access. To do the job, whether it’s earth observation or tactical communications, the network must be trusted.
Ultimately, military and commercial end-users will benefit from access to real-time data – even in remote areas – for improved situational awareness and powerful, flexible networks that maintain operational effectiveness and security. But first we need the bandwidth to get to devices no matter where they are, and in highly secure environments.
Satellites will increasingly provide this bandwidth, and on the receiving end will be a user enabled with devices that have an increased level of autonomy for more dispersed and automated tactical decision-making.
Today, troops in the field still cope with limited Internet connectivity, “a major hindrance,” according to Curtis Dukes, director of the information assurance division at the U.S. National Security Agency.
To quote U.S. Secretary of Defense Carter: “Pushing connectivity out to the tactical edge in large volumes is going to require investment in new generations of communications satellites, as well as leveraging commercial satellites.”
The technology is here now to realize the digital transformation of military and commercial networks, but it is incumbent upon the system operators and policy makers to push for their adoption.