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US Space Force eyes hybrid satcom architecture

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lifts-off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral, Florida with the US Air Force's Wideband Global SATCOM system. (ULA)

Members of the US Space Force's (USSF) combat requirements office are weighing options for the development of a hybrid, space-based satellite communications (satcom) architecture, as the US Air Force's (USAF's) premier research directorate is standing up a similar architecture for extra-terrestrial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.

The notion of a hybrid satcom architecture is akin to how cellular data is transmitted during voice and video calls, as well as other means of electronic communication. A cellular signal can ping across any number of cellular provider networks and infrastructure, transmitting on to one network, then leapfrogging across other networks until the data reaches its destination. In terms of satcom, under a hybrid approach, data transmission can be initiated through a network at geosynchronous orbit (GEO), then jump onto a satcom network at medium-Earth orbit (MEO) or low-Earth orbit (LEO) – and potentially back up the orbital satcom chain – until the data transmission reaches the receiver.

A viable hybrid satcom architecture will be one that ideally “takes advantage of the global perspective that GEO brings, as well as the proliferated nature that LEO brings”, said David Voss, director of the Spectrum Warfare Center of Excellence at USSF's Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) “It gives us that [critical] path agnostic capability not only within a contested environment ... [but] delivering these communication systems for either you know, 5G or even future 6G applications,” he said during a January 2022 briefing.

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