Lockheed Martin MUOS satellite could solve communications challenges in the Arctic

February 03, 2014 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
In the arctic people are spread thinly over thousands of square miles and access to secure, reliable communications is problematic. Further, satellite signals tend not to reach far North reliably.

Lockheed Martin has demonstrated that the U.S. Navy's Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites could help solve communication challenges in the arctic. During company-funded tests, MUOS voice and data signals reached much farther north than previously thought, just 30 miles and 0.5 degrees of latitude shy of the North Pole.

Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) capability was demonstrated using three different radios as far north as 89.5 degrees, under peak orbit conditions. This inherent voice and data access is well beyond the 65-degree system requirement.

The additional coverage comes at a time when demand is surging for dependable polar communications.

"As the arctic becomes more accessible, the U.S. and its allies need reliable communications to maintain a safe and secure presence," said Paul Scearce, director of Military Space Advanced Programs at Lockheed Martin. "Demand for consistent voice and data services will only increase. The area is experiencing more shipping, tourism and natural resource exploration, which will also likely increase demands for search and rescue."

The demonstrations show MUOS has an advantage over legacy satellite communications.

"This joint testing gave us important system operation data at extreme conditions," said Dr. Amy Sun, Narrowband Advanced Programs lead at Lockheed Martin. "We did these evaluations to explore growing arctic communication demand, yet it also highlighted the dramatic capability improvements the WCDMA architecture will provide. Using MUOS, we were able to communicate from the aircraft at high latitudes, which wasn't the case for the legacy Ultra High Frequency signal."

Anticipated shipping lanes will see full coverage 24 hours a day, with signal gradually dropping off farther north to 89.5 degrees, which can be achieved at peak orbit conditions. Airborne terminals can connect further north than sea level terminals, but at reduced durations.

The Antarctic should see similar performance results. Lockheed Martin plans on evaluating MUOS signal strength there, as well.