Space – the Communications Frontier

 

This month, I would like to focus on the considerable amount of activity involving satellites in the sky above us. New satellites are being launched and many, many more launches are being planned to keep up with the insatiable global demand we are experiencing.

 

 

This huge increase in the demand for data has been led primarily by Apple with the iPhone, closely followed by Google with the Android operating system, and subsequently all the other smart phones and tablets that use Android. 

 

Google have announced this month their huge investment in SpaceX which intends to launch 4,000 “Cube Satellites”. More on this later.  

 

This is just one of many huge “Cube Satellite” projects that plan to populate the space around the earth with thousands of new satellites over the next decade. A number of people have asked me about the possibility of collisions between satellites, and it appears that the United States Strategic Command (STRACOM) are also concerned about this potential problem as they have made various statements this month.

 

We are the collaboration partner with Kymeta in the development of their radical flat panel satellite antenna for yachting, and they have just announced a new major strategic development partnership with Intelsat, who are the largest owner of satellites in space. Kymeta is likely to be involved with all of these projects, as some of them are only now possible due to the clever antenna they are developing.

 

Inmarsat I-5 F2 launch

 

On the 1st February, Inmarsat successfully launched their second Global Xpress satellite known as Inmarsat-5 F2, after a long delay caused by a number of launch failures by ILS, their chosen launch vehicle company.

 

Once operational, following extensive in-orbit and live service testing, I-5 F2 will deliver Global Xpress services to the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean Region, complementing Inmarsat-5 F1 coverage in the Indian Ocean Region.

 

 

The third satellite in the constellation is scheduled for launch early in 2015, enabling the Global Xpress network to become globally available – expected early in the second half of this year.

 

e3 is the Inmarsat Fleet Xpress (FX) Value Added Reseller for Yachting and we will be conducting beta trials on selected yachts later this year.

 

We have a video of the launch in the News section of our website www.e3s.com.

 

SpaceX and Google’s investment

 

Google and Fidelity confirmed an investment of approximately $1 billion in SpaceX.  SpaceX is the second large-scale Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications constellation announced in February.

 

Together the two new investors own slightly less than 10 percent of SpaceX — a company founded by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, who co-founded PayPal and Tesla cars.

 

I happened to be in Seattle on January 16th, the night SpaceX held a presentation with the intention of recruiting local tech talent, at which they “confidentially” announced details of the project. It was closed to media, but a video recording was put on YouTube by an attendee the following day! So now SpaceX have stated the funding will bolster space transport, reusability and satellite manufacturing.

 


SpaceX plans to build and launch a constellation of approximately 4,000 satellites at SpaceX Seattle. They will be in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and will provide worldwide access to broadband with a latency of 20 to 30 milliseconds, close to that of fibre optic cable.

 

SpaceX hopes to launch version one of the satellite constellation in roughly five years, although they say that the first version will not feature all of the capabilities of later iterations.

 

The full constellation would handle about 10 percent of the world’s business and consumer direct traffic, and more than half of the long distance traffic. New, more advanced satellites would be launched about every five years.

 

SpaceX is likely to face some big hurdles where previous projects,

 

such as Teledsic, have fallen. LEO satellites are continually moving across the sky and a fixed satellite dish is of no use, as the satellite needs to be tracked by an intelligent dish like the ones we use on yachts. Teledisc couldn’t make terminals at a cost effective price. Low-end users (small businesses or consumers) were the primary target for Teledesic, and having mechanically steered dishes that track satellites across the sky was an expensive business then and still is now.

 

Musk envisages that the terminals will cost between $100 and $300 dollars each, depending on the version. The goal would be to make the broadband from SpaceX satellites accessible to people in both developed countries and those with limited resources. This is a major challenge.   

 

The only technology being developed that is heading in that direction is being developed by our colleagues at Kymeta, and it won’t be long before a working two-way system is up and running – in Seattle!

 

SpaceX expects the mammoth satellite constellation to cost roughly $10 to $15 billion dollars overall. Musk described the project as being similar to “rebuilding the Internet in space,” adding that satellites constitute as much or more space-based activity as rockets.        

 

Kymeta Intelsat development agreement

 

As you can see, the Kymeta technology has a huge number of applications that will open up new services and systems that were hitherto impossible.  At e3 we have been pursuing the benefits of their technology for yachts, which is pretty small fry compared to the potential with projects such as SpaceX.

 

The developments at Kymeta are progressing well. I had a catch-up with them in January in Seattle and was pleased to see everything progressing to target with an expected prototype being tested on a yacht in first quarter 2016 with production for yachts in 2017.

 

In February they also announced a development agreement with Intelsat. Intelsat is the world’s leading provider of satellite services, and Kymeta Corporation is the leading developer of metamaterials-based antenna technology. Their agreement is to design and produce innovative, flat, electronically steerable, Ku-band mTenna™ satellite antenna solutions that are optimized for the Intelsat EpicNG high throughput satellite (HTS) platform.  The two key messages in this news story are, firstly, that Intelsat is the largest owner of satellites in the world and the development is for Ku band VSAT as Kymeta are currently thought to be developing for Ka band only.

 

Density of satellites and debris concern

 


The United States Strategic Command (Stratcom) wants better tracking for small satellites.  The number of these small satellites in orbit is growing at an alarming rate, with the result that outer space is actually getting congested!

 

According to a space debris expert at the University of South Hampton, CubeSats have been involved in more than 360,000 close approaches of less than three miles with other orbiting objects.

 

In 2014 Stratcom logged an average of 23 collision-warning notifications per day. By the end of the year, JSpOC logged 121 collision avoidance maneuvers, including three with the more than $100 billion International Space Station (ISS).

 

Stratcom is improving its own tracking abilities. The improved systems will be able to track objects as small as 10 centimeters. They are also receiving data from many other sources which needs to be managed well. Larger satellites can be moved to avoid collisions but the CubeSats cannot.

 

Collaboration between industry and nations to share information is a major objective to avoid the proliferation of more space junk.  Stratcom has agreements with 46 commercial satellite entities in 16 countries, as well as agreements with eight different nations on sharing information.

 

Let’s hope this works, as just one collision will have a devastating effect!

 

 

 

Roger Horner of e3 Systems

For further information on any of the above, please contact us.

email on info@e3s.com and website www.e3s.com

Tel: +34 971 404 208

Also read

Get your hard-copy now!

Your advert in The Islander Magazine?

Get your hard-copy now!

Your advert in The Islander Magazine?

JOIN OUR EVENT LIST
and receive your invitation to our events