Starlink constellation gets its first sixty satellites.
A Falcon 9 attempted to put sixty of SpaceX's Starlink satellites into low earth orbit on May 15th, but the launch was scrubbed twice, once for weather, once for possible software issues (Ars Technica). The company finally succeeded in getting its satellites up on Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 (Ars Technica).
The Starlink satellites are "production design," but still test articles, SpaceX said, and they joined two prototypes (Tintin A and Tintin B) already in orbit. The spacecraft lack intersatellite links but are otherwise functional. At an altitude of 550 kilometers, the satellites' orbits will decay within a few years. They'll ultimately be joined by a planned 12,000 other comsats. SpaceX has competitors for the space-based Internet commercial market: OneWeb flew the first six of its planned six-hundred-fifty back in March, Amazon plans a 3236-satellite constellation (Project Kuiper), and Ubiquitilink intends to operate a comsat constellation that will be backward compatible with legacy cell phones (TechCrunch).
Not all are enthralled by the prospect of large numbers of commercial satellites in low earth orbit. There's the potential for collisions, of course (C4ISRNET), but there are other issues as well. Some astronomers complain that constellations on the scale being talked about have the potential to change "what a natural sky looks like," and to make it more difficult to observe stars from earth. The Starlink satellites, for example, were easily visible and had the apparent brightness of Polaris. SpaceX says the satellites will get darker as they move to higher orbits, but astronomers aren't so sure (New York Times).
Ground-based competition for satellite spectrum.
The FCC has begun auctioning off spectrum for 5G providers, despite concerns that the coming IoT-heavy networks are likely to interfere with meteorological satellites' communication with their ground stations (Ars Technica).
Securing satellite-based networks.
The Air Force has taken possession of the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite. The jam-resistant AEHF constellation replaces the legacy Milstar system (C4ISRNET).
Jam resistance is of course important to mission assurance, but Defense and industry leaders are concerned about the implications of growing dependence on satellites as an Internet-connected communications backbone. Viasat has received a contract to deliver the first Link-16-capable satellite, which suggests how compelling the pull of satellite networks for tactical operations can be (C4ISRNET). The challenge the community faces is determining how to move large quantities of information among satellites and ground stations without dramatically increasing their attack surface (Breaking Defense).
Securing satellites is attracting more concern as the satellites themselves become more generally reprogrammable. What can be reprogrammed can also be hacked, and that's a concern industry is warning about (ExecutiveBiz). Think of satellites as Internet-of-things devices in earth orbit. Resilience is clearly important; how to achieve it is problematic (Help Net Security).
Commercial and military satellite communications: finding the right mix.
The satellite networks that appear to be emerging seem likely to represent a mix of commercial and military assets. Air Force Space Command and the vendors who supply commercial satcom (Eutelsat, Hughes, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Iridium Communications, SES, Viasat, and Xtar) hope that hybrid network will be "seamless" (Space News).
DARPA this past month announced a funding opportunity that would support integration of military payloads into commercial satellite buses: project Blackjack (ExecutiveBiz). The Broad Agency Announcement for Blackjack was issued on May 25th. DARPA plans to award $117.5 million over the course of the program.