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Powerful LEO for Milsatcom — Connecting the Strategic Arctic & Beyond

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The U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) leads the discovery, development, and delivery of warfighting technologies for America’s air, space, and cyberspace forces. According to its mission, the AFRL is committed to pushing the boundaries through unparalleled research. Its scientists, researchers, and professionals “re-imagine what’s possible, creating tomorrow’s technology, TODAY.” This pursuit delivers solutions to meet the warfighter's urgent needs and delivers innovative new capabilities for the entire Air Force.

Recently, the AFRL selected Hughes to lead a project with OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications company, to demonstrate managed LEO satellite communications (SATCOM) services. Under the agreement, Hughes will test and implement end-to-end services between select U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) locations, a first step in harnessing the power of LEO satellites for high-speed, low-latency broadband access to the Arctic region.

“This opportunity reinforces the relationship between Hughes and the U.S. Air Force to ensure resilient, flexible SATCOM networks for tactical, multi-domain operations. Having ubiquitous connectivity in the polar region will deliver unprecedented operational freedom and flexibility,” said Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the Defense and Intelligence Systems Division at Hughes.

Hughes invested $50 million early on to support OneWeb and has subsequently become a technology and distribution partner. Hughes is developing and producing the gateway electronics and the core modules which will be used in every terminal on the system. As OneWeb launches more satellites as part of the constellation, Hughes will conduct testing and verification of the gateways that are deployed.

LEO satellites are able to reach places that geostationary (GEO) satellites cannot. The OneWeb constellation of LEO satellites is designed to offer high speed, low latency connectivity around the world — in every region and multiple military domains that were previously unconnected. Complex SATCOM networks capable of meeting the warfighter’s demand for global connectivity will require LEOs and every other type of data transport – including GEO and terrestrial – because no single transport can do it alone. Hughes intelligent network management will support resilient, hybrid connectivity like this at the tactical edge.

By demonstrating the power of LEO satellites for secure SATCOM networks, Hughes will indeed enable AFRL to re-imagine what’s possible in strategic regions where the Air Force has been facing connectivity and limitations – until now.

Header image: The OneWeb gateway in Svalbard, Norway, capable of 10,000 hand-offs per second, is one of the gateways developed by Hughes that will orchestrate handover and tracking of gigabits of data for NORTHCOM. Photo Credit: OneWeb/Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT).