Air Force looking for 5G in space

The Air Force wants 5G on the ground and in space to help link the two.
The U.S. Air Force’s 10th Wideband Global Satcom communications satellite (WGS-10) atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket lifts off on Friday, Mar. 15, 2019 from Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The Air Force‘s Space Command wants to find a way to get 5G wireless connectivity to work in space — a breakthrough that would improve data transportation for ground- and space-based communications.

The command issued a request for information expressing interest in space 5G at the same time the Department of Defense is aggressively pursuing traditional, ground-based 5G network development. Adding space-based transport layers of the next-generation network could expand the military’s ability to move data, communicate and support enterprise networks with more bandwidth, according to the RFI.

The request focuses on how industry can create and use 5G networks in space operations. With a planned uptick in space missions between NASA and the newfound Space Force, which is housed within the Air Force, networking beyond Earth’s atmosphere has been of increasing interest to the government. Private companies like Microsoft, Amazon and others are also taking note of the new market for space.

Now, the Air Force is looking for ways to connect and network that type of computing power to and from its operators in space.


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

Some specific points of particular interest include: “massive MIMO” (multiple input multiple output networks) for space craft communications, radio access network (RAN) slicing, artificial intelligence that can prioritize data streams on networks to speed priority transportation, and cybersecurity impacts.

“5G includes many applications of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML),” according to the RFI. But the Air Force wants to know: “Which 5G AI/ML tools and techniques would provide message stream recognition and content analysis to prioritize stream data rate by content type, potentially storing data in a Multi-tenant Edge Computing (MEC) node and sending it later?”

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