The U.S. military believes optical intersatellite links (OISL) will be a foundational technology for future satellites in all orbital regimes, and wants to create an enterprise solution for connecting its space systems beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).
Popular among LEO constellations, OISL use lasers to connect satellites to each other on orbit, enabling mesh networks in space that can pass data all around the globe. The U.S. Space Force in a Dec. 22 request for information (RFI) claimed OISL will be a critical part of its future space architecture, including those operating farther out than LEO.
“Future space systems will require reliable, high-throughput intra- and inter-constellation communications with the flexibility to form the future backbone of a resilient mesh network ensuring C2 (command and control) and information path diversity,” Space Systems Command explained in the RFI.
The Space Force said that its enterprise laser communications solution will not replace existing OISL efforts in LEO, but it will build on them. Its solution will be specifically for crosslinks from 10,000 km to approximately 70,000 km above the Earth’s surface.
Under the RFI, companies can submit information on their capabilities to produce optical modem design with low size, weight and power (SWAP). The Space Force is interested in estimates of cost and schedules for planning purposes.
Companies have until Feb. 7 to respond.
Military already buying OISL
The U.S. military is already investing in multiple OISL solutions, with the Space Development Agency (SDA), the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) purchasing or developing laser communications technology.
The SDA is using OISL to connect a new military constellation that will connect hundreds of satellites in LEO. Multiple companies are providing optical terminals for that effort, including Mynaric (NASDAQ: MYNA and FRA: M0Y), Airbus Defence and Space subsidiary Tesat, Skyloom and SA Photonics, according to the SDA.
Meanwhile, DARPA’s Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node (Space-BACN) program is developing low-cost, reconfigurable terminals that can connect across a variety of OISL standards. DARPA selected 11 teams for phase one of the program in August.
AFRL in June announced an $11 million contract with space technology developer BlueHalo to build a pair of OISL proto-flight terminals and a ground station.