SpaceX has signed a new agreement with the U.S. Army that will see that defense service test SpaceX’s forthcoming Starlink satellite-based broadband network over the course of three years to evaluate its usefulness in serving their needs. The R&D agreement, as first reported by SpaceNews, is a fairly standard agreement ahead of any actual commercial procurement deal for the U.S. military.
SpaceX’s Starlink network, which is still in development and which is set to go live for select customers in the U.S. and Canada later this year, according to the company, aims to provide low-latency, high-speed internet connectivity globally using low Earth orbit small satellites. Its network is designed specifically to address the needs of customers located in hard-to-reach and underserved areas, with network connectivity that the company hopes will be better and more reliable than existing satellite-based connections, which rely on geostationary satellites located much farther away from Earth.
The Army will be looking at finding out what kind of investment it needs to make in ground-station infrastructure and integrating SpaceX’s network connectivity with its existing systems, SpaceNews reports. Provided there are no big showstoppers there, SpaceX’s solution could address a lot of the challenges the military faces with connectivity no matter where they’re operating. Obviously, they don’t always find themselves working in places with high population density and easily accessible ground-network infrastructure.
There are other ways in which Starlink’s operating model doesn’t fit with the Army’s needs, including its reliance on ground stations, which may or may not be accessible to the Army in whatever operating theater they happen to currently be in. Still, it’s very possible that Starlink could meet the needs of some of its operations and not others, but provide big improvements in those areas where it does work.
Starlink launches are set to continue at a regular pace throughout the year as SpaceX continues to build out its many hundred-satellite network. The more satellites that SpaceX has on orbit, the greater its geographic reach, and the less likely its network is to encounter interruptions in service, since each satellite hands off the connection from one to another as they orbit the Earth.