Can satellites replace fibre optics for internet communication?

Most communication satellites currently use radio waves to communicate. Radio signals are easier to intercept, jam and disrupt. On the other hand, lasers offer higher data rates and facilitate communication between satellites of different operators, reducing latency and improving bandwidth.

In the context of the global cyber war, the US Department of Defense is working on the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node (Space-BACN) programme, which aims to create a laser-enabled military internet in orbit around Earth. It would interconnect different satellites, thus establishing a communication network that would enable better information sharing between different branches of the US military, as well as with their allies worldwide.

Space Bacon is a proposed military internet in orbit that promises many benefits, such as the elimination of latency and the ability to reroute messages automatically. It will be fitted with laser transceivers and use a system of motor-driven lenses and tilting mirrors to send and receive data at speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second. The complex curved surface of the mirror will direct photons into a device the size of an iPhone.

Space Bacon is seen as a solution to the vulnerabilities of satellites to attack and disruption, which have been demonstrated in recent years when Russia fired a missile into a defunct satellite and when satellite systems used by Ukraine have been hacked and jammed. Furthermore, ground antennae have also been attacked. Space Bacon will bring pretty well every relevant ground station into play, allowing it to communicate with counterparts as far away as 5,000km.

The advantages of using lasers over radio waves are clear, as lasers are harder to intercept and almost impossible to jam and offer far higher data rates. Space Bacon is thus seen as a way to create a secure, reliable, and high-speed military internet in orbit around Earth. It is hoped that Space Bacon will offer one of the vaunted pluses of the original ARPANET design and bring satellites within the scope of secure and reliable military communication.