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Future Space System Support to US Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic: Broadband Satellite Communications Options

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Monday, 24 January 2011
Future Space System Support to US Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic: Broadband Satellite Communications Options
Washington State Convention Center
Leslie Wickman, The Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA; and P. Smith and I. Min
Manuscript (80.4 kB)

Poster PDF (550.0 kB)

Significant increases in shipping traffic and resource exploration/exploitation activities are occurring in the Arctic region. The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and other military services have begun to plan for increased operations in the region, which could start ramping up as early as about 2013 if recent climate model predictions for Arctic melting prove accurate. The polar region is a very different arena for space system operations compared to lower latitudes, and supporting increased U.S. military activities in the Arctic may require new satellite systems and user terminals. U.S. weather, navigation and surveillance satellites in polar orbits already cover the Arctic region, but current military satellite communications capabilities in the region are quite limited and existing passive satellite imagery (for ice monitoring and other types of surveillance) is hampered by persistent cloud cover and seasonal darkness. Given the high costs and long lead times (up to 10 years or more) to develop new space systems, the U.S. military could face a shortage of communications and possibly other space-based support capabilities during a period when nations are intensely jockeying for influence and resource claims in the region. Canada and Russia are developing new satellite programs to support their countries' increased Arctic activities. The potential need for new space-based support capabilities in the Arctic region is certainly well within the U.S. military's current planning horizon. This paper focuses on the military's future requirements and options for broadband satellite communications in the Arctic region. Getting a head start on defining the requirements analysis and procurement options will help to expedite the space-system acquisition process when, perhaps in the very near future, the timeline for Arctic melting and increased military activities in the region becomes better established.