Pentagon Wants To Demo Space Internet Capabilities


The Pentagon’s innovation arm wants to test “internet in space” capabilities by the end of the year, the space portfolio director for the Defense Innovation Unit said Thursday.

“There is no internet in space. So we have to build an internet in space,” Steve Butow said at the AWS Summit in Washington… “We’re trying to rapidly get to the point where we can do a demonstration. We’re going to try to do some demonstrations by the end of the year.”

The concept has already gained support in Congress: The House appropriations committee said in a report it backs “efforts to leverage commercial space networks to create an ‘internet’ for future military communications,” adding that the Space Force should lead “the integration of commercial space networks.”

DIU began awarding contracts for the hybrid space architecture in 2022, indicating in a news release that on-orbit demonstrations were planned for within 24 months. Seven companies are now on contract for various related capabilities, including remote sensing, cyber, communications, and cloud services, a DIU spokesperson told Defense One.

For example, terrestrial-based cell phone towers are fixed and users roam about while staying connected. “But in space,” Butow said, “everything roams, and it roams at high velocity. So we have to know where the cellphone towers are. We need to know where users are…and we need to do that in three dimensions,” using key technologies including cloud computing, autonomy, software-defined and delay-tolerant networking.

Building the internet in space could also have implications beyond defense, Butow said, noting that pairing the digital and physical infrastructure needed to move people, services, fuel, and supplies will likely have a significant effect on the economy, Butow said.

“The new space race is not an arms race, it’s an economic race,” he said. “And unlocking the true potential of what we can do in space is a real roller coaster challenge.”