U.S. government officials in the space arena are laser-focused on establishing and maintaining high-bandwidth, low-latency communications between satellite systems. These lines of communication are sent between ground stations and satellites in low-Earth orbit at about 1,000 km distance from the Earth and even as far as geostationary orbit, at about 35,700 km distance from the Earth’s equator. But those with deep involvement in the field debate what is an acceptable delay in travel time for the data.
At ExecutiveBiz’s Space Technologies Forum on Tuesday, Robert Conrad, vice president of business development at Kepler Communications (who sponsored the event) asked participants in the panel discussion that closed out the forum whether the 90-minute latency requirement included in a recent request for information from the National Reconnaissance Office made sense or was characterized by a certain “disconnect.”
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U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Chief Engineer Dr. Linda Thomas believes that everyone involved has to work to “collapse” the timeframe and reduce latency as much as possible, proclaiming that a range of 90 minutes to 500 milliseconds is “not going to be good enough.”
“Let’s neck down that timeframe to make sure transport’s not the limiter and enable our warfighter and our mission partners as well to be able to prosecute targets collectively in a short timeframe,” Thomas stated.
Thomas was speaking to the concerns of the military because the satellite communications in question are used to connect systems for programs like sensor-to-shooter and Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the Department of Defense’s effort to unify and link all weapons, personnel and tools across different terrain and points of location.
Thomas’ fellow panelist, Robert Zitz, a private consultant for the defense sector with extensive experience in both government and industry, agreed with her that 90 minutes is far too long a wait time. He said it’s the responsibility of the military services and related agencies to deem that number as insufficient, lending the insight that commercial companies tailor their work and capabilities to what the requests for proposal are asking. If an RFP sets a limit at a 90 minute latency time, then the companies potentially won’t push themselves to make the communications work faster than that.
Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator and program manager for Space Communications and Navigation at NASA, chimed in to explain the 90 minute provision, saying that it was included in the RFI as a “worst case scenario,” to account for remote station communications, or those at the farthest points in the heliosphere.
During the conversation, panelists went on to highlight interoperability as a central focus for the satellite communications industry and something that practitioners and the government should prioritize in the coming years.
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