Since arriving last fall, the Air Force’s mixed fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk and BD-700 Global Express jets have provided vastly improved communications for US ground forces in Southwest Asia. Thanks to these aircraft equipped with Battlefield Airborne Communication Nodes, “ground troops that are in a convoy down in the middle of a valley can now talk through a Global Hawk like a low-hanging satellite to a command center—they’re always in touch,” said Bill Walker, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk business manager. BACN also improves ground forces ability to coordinate close air support. In mountainous terrain such as Afghanistan, commanders were previously forced to wait to communicate with aircraft once they arrived overhead. “Now he can talk to the pilot as soon as he takes off, so by the time he gets on station he doesn’t have to loiter,” Walker told reporters at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference, in Washington, D.C., Aug. 16. More than simple relay, BACN also “translates” radio voice or data streams, allowing a broad range of air and ground assets to share information seamlessly in real time.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.