Pentagon Pursues 5G Applications for Space 


A new document details military considerations regarding future means to transport data.

The U.S. military moved to explore next-generation networking capabilities and tools that could advance how it moves vast volumes of data on and beyond planet Earth. 

Space Force officials and others in the Air Force office responsible for enterprise data transport intend to tap “rapidly emerging 5G technologies to support space data transport terrestrially, in space, and in the space-ground links,” according to a request for information published by the latter Thursday.

“Any aspect of 5G applied to any aspect of space systems is of potential interest,” the document noted.

Experiments and pilots that will use 5G to reimagine warehouse logistics and transform health care delivery, among other future-focused applications, are already unfolding on multiple military bases. 

The Pentagon players involved in this RFI confirmed that they’re concentrating on adapting 5G radio access networks to space-ground communications in contested environments—and on applying 5G network slicing and orchestration “to realize a federation of existing and emerging space data transport networks that include the legacy space control networks, ground data transport infrastructure, commercial augmentation services networks, partner networks, and potentially commercial 5G networks.” But those priorities could be adjusted, the document said, depending on existing, applicable solutions that could come to light.

Questions posed range across ten topic areas including network slicing orchestration, trustworthy autonomous networks, multitenant edge computing—and more. 

“What are your capabilities and interests in the 5G Internet of Space Things (IoST)?” officials asked. “What IoST use cases do you believe will be broadly adopted?”

They also questioned whether 5G-centered, multiple-input multiple-output techniques might be able to enhance communication links between humans’ home planet and their spacecraft down the line, and how specific compact, low-cost antennas could be deployed to enable in-space networking and data transmissions. Further, officials asked for details around capabilities that could provide 5G services from space and insights on how future space networks might evolve to be “self-monitoring autonomic networks with automatic end-to-end adaptation,” among other subjects.

“As networks become more highly integrated, federated, and orchestrated, the complexity of control increases. What 5G and emerging 6G cybersecurity technologies are applicable to protecting such control systems from unauthorized access and manipulation?” officials wrote. “What are the [technology readiness level] timelines for improved, globally standardized 5G cybersecurity measures?”

The deadline for responses is set for March 18.