The US Department of Defense wants to know if SpaceX can create a miniature, wireless version of the antennas currently used to connect to the Internet via Starlink satellite.
The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has announced its interest in miniaturized Starlink terminals in a Large Scale Announcement (BAA) soliciting proposals for dozens of small research and development projects under the US Small Program Business Innovation Research (SBIR). At this point, just hours after the release of the SBIR RFP series, it’s unclear whether the U.S. military is already coordinating with SpaceX on the topic of portable Starlink antennas or if the request is open to proposals from. anyone.
Again, said request [PDF] provides interesting details about its main objectives.
Hat tip to Michael Sabo for spotting SBIR.
In short, the purpose of the research topic is to “conduct a feasibility study to assess” whether it is possible to “develop a small form factor system that allows reliable access to the Starlink commercial Internet system”. In essence, as increasingly better radio, data and internet links have become a virtual necessity for a majority of people in the modern world, so too have military operations – connectivity is more useful and strategically. essential than ever.
In this sense, US SOCOM wants to determine whether it is possible to develop an antenna capable of connecting to SpaceX’s vast constellation of Starlink satellites while being small and efficient enough that individual soldiers can transport it – and operate – when. of their travels. It should be noted that SBIR would necessarily be open to virtually any American company or individual capable of achieving its goals – not just SpaceX, in other words. To date, SpaceX has never mentioned an interest or willingness to allow third-party vendors to develop Starlink-compatible antennas – a move that would undoubtedly make waves. As such, it seems safe – but perhaps not entirely safe – to assume that SOCOM is issuing this RFP under the implicit assumption that only proposals from SpaceX itself will be considered.
At the same time, a miniature battery-powered antenna capable of connecting to Starlink and providing a “reliable internet connection” would obviously be of immense commercial interest both to SpaceX and to competing low-earth orbit internet constellation companies like OneWeb. and Amazon. It is not known whether accepting government funds and carrying out the development under an SBIR grant – particularly for US military special forces – would interfere with SpaceX’s ability to market the same wireless antenna for use. civil.
It’s worth noting that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has previously said that a miniature Starlink mobile antenna “sounds like a good idea,” although there has been no sign of work on such a device.
Either way, the DoD will accept proposals for the last batch of SBIR contracts between May 19 and June 19. If SOCOM ultimately chooses to award a Phase I contract, and the resulting feasibility study concludes that Starlink portable antennas for humans are within the realm of the possible, SpaceX (or unlikely third-party vendors) could go out of business. theoretical or laboratory research to Phase II proposal. A hypothetical Phase III proposal would follow up Phase II with a focus on building and testing a substantial number of prototypes in the field, which would possibly result in a working purchase contract. .