DIU taps more companies to demo a military space internet

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The Defense Innovation Unit tapped four more commercial partners to provide technologies to enable its nascent Hybrid Space Architecture (HSA) program — through which it ultimately aims to generate a secure, space-based internet for the U.S. military and its commercial and international partners. 

SpiderOak Mission Systems, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and Microsoft Azure Space were selected to help expand the in-the-works HSA network to supply connectivity in that emerging conflict domain, according to a statement shared with DefenseScoop on Wednesday. 

In July, DIU awarded other transaction agreement contracts for HSA to the companies Aalyria, Anduril, Atlas, and Enveil, and confirmed then that more awards could be in the pipeline.

“We have additional vendors that are selected but not yet funded, so we hope to make more awards as funding becomes available,” Senior Engineer and Technical Program Manager for DIU’s Space Portfolio Rogan Shimmin told DefenseScoop Wednesday.

The Space Force’s Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) and Space Systems Command (SSC), as well as the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate, are also collaborating with DIU and the companies in this pursuit. 

“We definitely aim to establish a usable communications architecture that can transition to full deployment,” Shimmin noted. “The first step is delivering a proof-of-concept for the SWAC force design validation. We anticipate many iterations as the architecture evolves, but believe that this initial effort can provide a solid foundation for the HSA to be built upon.”

Through the prior, first phase of HSA work, those involved developed a Hybrid Gateway Satellite to demonstrate and prove some networking technologies. In this second phase — which is “now underway,” according to DIU’s announcement — the public and private partners are poised to “expand the operational network to link terrestrial cloud and internet services with massively proliferated commercial communications satellite constellations over a secure backbone of user authentication and data assurance using blockchain ledgers to realize the variable trust architecture that truly enables a hybrid public/private network.”

HSA is envisioned to essentially link multiple ground communications systems with a variety of satellite networks using all mechanisms available — like the Electromagnetic Radio Frequency spectrum (RF/EM), Optical Inter-Satellite Links (OISL), Military Tactical Data Links (TDL), legacy and future ground segment wired networks and beyond.

Shimmin said that this latest addition “of major cloud providers with close partnerships to proliferated lower Earth orbit (LEO) communications providers massively expands” DIU’s in-development demonstration network. 

“Leveraging the market footprint of the terrestrial networks of Microsoft and Amazon brings into play enterprise cybersecurity tools and active threat awareness and mitigation. The addition of SpiderOak provides a robust solution for the variable trust component of the HSA that had not been addressed in the first round of awards,” he noted.

The period of performance for this phase of work is 24 months — with options to extend, Shimmin confirmed. While operational demonstrations are “very much intended,” currently none are formally planned.

At this point, each of the companies is providing complementary solutions to parts of the architecture. 

“The first stage of the awards will have each vendor demonstrating their capabilities in isolation, with cross-team discussions on direction and establishing interfaces between their components,” Shimmin said. “The later stages will involve combined operational demonstrations.”

DIU’s release noted that this HSA effort is expected to be “a fundamental enabler of concepts such as Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2),” which encompasses the Pentagon’s complex plans to connect all sensors, shooters and capabilities in future warfare. 

The work also expands as the entire Defense Department’s broad effort to provide a Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) across its vast enterprise on the ground gradually unfolds. AWS and Microsoft are among multiple potential vendors vying for that contract. 

Still, “it’s time for the internet to move off-planet,” Shimmin noted in the DIU release. “This project will pursue the goals of an agile and resilient communications architecture that will be able to move data through commercial, military and allied assets while integrating multi-domain cloud-based storage and analytics.”