Navy takes high-bandwidth satcom to the Arctic

Lockheed’s MUOS constellation can provide mobile connectivity up to 30 miles from the North Pole.

Lockheed MUOS satellite

Being stuck in the Arctic might not be so bad now as the military is increasing its ability to provide reliable satellite connections above the Arctic Circle.

During the Navy’s 2014 Ice Exercise (ICEX), Lockheed Martin’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites were able to provide nearly 150 hours of secure data connections, representing the first time that military users could transfer megabyte-sized files in the Arctic.

ICEX, which took place in March, is designed to provide training in the Arctic environment in order to refine and validate procedures and equipment. The exercise focuses heavily on the use of submarines, and was supported by Ice Camp Nautilus, which is located 150 miles north of the northernmost point of the United States.

Engineers at the camp were able to provide over 8,800 minutes of secure satellite communications through the MUOS constellation. Navy users could connect to both classified and unclassified networks.

“We downloaded multiple files—up to 20 megabytes—nearly at the top of the world,” said Dr. Amy Sun, Narrowband Advanced Programs lead at Lockheed Martin. “We sent a steady stream of photos, maps and other large data pieces securely through the system, something that could never be done by legacy communication satellites.”

MUOS is an ultra-high frequency satellite communications system that provides secure connections to mobile users. Consisting of four satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit, MUOS is based on a direct sequence spread spectrum Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) waveform that uses adaptive power control to provide different service quality levels. According to Lockheed Martin, the WCDMA payload provides a 16-times increase in transmission throughput over current legacy systems.

The system demonstrated its ability to reach Arctic users in tests conducted in 2013, reaching farther north than previously thought possible.  Voice and data signals were able to reach within 30 miles and 0.5 degrees latitude from the North Pole.

“Last year we proved the constellation’s reach, but this is the first time MUOS has been used for secure government exercises,” said Paul Scearce, Lockheed’s director of Military Space Advanced Programs. “This means users could traverse the globe using one radio, without needing to switch out because of different coverage areas. This goes far in increasing the value that MUOS provides mobile users, not just in traditional theaters of operation, but those at the furthest extents of the planet.”

The Arctic area has continued to see increased shipping, tourism, and natural resource exploration as the polar ice sheets continue to recede, allowing for increased access. The Arctic has reached an important strategic high point as the United States and other countries work to maintain security in the region.

“As the Arctic becomes more accessible, the U.S. and its allies need reliable communications to maintain a safe and secure presence,” Scearce said after the 2013 tests. “Demand for consistent voice and data services will only increase.”