Satellites are crucial military infrastructure for spying and communications. They are also vulnerable to attack and disruption. In November 2021, three months before it invaded Ukraine, Russia fired a missile into a defunct satellite. Then, in October, a Russian diplomat declared even commercial satellites could be legitimate targets. Satellite systems used by Ukraine have been hacked and jammed. Ground antennae have been attacked.
In light of this sort of thing, America’s military establishment is worried that its satellite network is not up to snuff. But it has a plan. The Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node (Space-BACN, or “Space Bacon”) will, if successful, create a laser-enabled military internet in orbit around Earth by piggybacking on a number of satellites that would have been launched anyway.
Space Bacon is a brainchild of DARPA, the special-projects research arm of the Department of Defense, and is an intriguing orbiting echo of the original, terrestrial ARPNET, which evolved into the internet…The plan is to fit as many newly launched satellites as possibly with laser transceivers that will be able to communicate with counterparts as far away as 5,000km. Satellite owners will pay for these transceivers, but will then receive payments from the American government for their use.
Space Bacon promises many benefits. Unlike radio, the normal mode of communication with and between satellites, transmissions by laser beam are hard to intercept and almost impossible to jam. Indeed, adversaries might not even know when a transmission is taking place, a bonus for operational secrecy.
DARPA wants Space Bacon to cost a maximum of $100,000 a satellite, the better to encourage participation. It bodes well that Amazon, SpaceX and Viasat are all designing command-and-control architectures for Space Bacon.
Excerpts from DARPA, lasers and an internet in orbit, Economist, Feb. 11, 2023