Researchers at the University of Bath have gained new insights into the mechanisms of the Northern Lights, providing an opportunity to develop better satellite technology that can negate outages caused by this natural phenomenon.

Previous research has shown that the natural lights of the Northern Lights — also known as or Aurora Borealis — interfere with Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) signals which are heavily relied upon in the transport and civil aviation industries.

The presence of plasma turbulence within the Northern Lights was traditionally deemed responsible for causing GNSS inaccuracies. However, this latest research found that turbulence does not exist, suggesting new, unknown mechanisms are actually responsible for outages on GNSS signals.

This is the first time it has been shown that turbulence does not take place within the Northern Lights and this new knowledge will enable new technological solutions to overcome these outages.

The research team from the University of Bath’s Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering in collaboration with the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT) observed the Northern Lights in Tromsø, northern Norway, where they observed and analysed the Northern Lights simultaneously using radar and a co-located GNSS receiver.

GNSS signals were used to identify how the Northern Lights interfere with GPS signals. Radar analysis provided a visual snap shot of the make-up of this famous and spectacular phenomenon.

A picture containing indoor, sitting Description generated with high confidence

GNSS is used to pinpoint the geographic location of a user’s receiver anywhere in the world. Numerous systems are in use across the world including the widely known United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS), the Russian Federation’s Global Orbiting Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) and Europe’s Galileo.

Each of the GNSS systems employs a constellation of satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 20,000 km satellites, working in conjunction with a network of ground stations. Originally developed by the US government for military navigation, satellite navigation systems are now widely used by anyone with a GNSS device, such as an in-car SatNav, mobile phone or handheld navigation unit, which can receive the radio signals that the satellites broadcast.

The Northern Lights occur at North and South Magnetic Poles, and are the result of collisions between gaseous particles in Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere.

The researchers believe this heightened understanding of the Northern Lights will inform the creation of new types of GNSS technology which are robust against the disturbances of the Northern Lights, and help influence GNSS regulations used in industries such as civil aviation, land management, drone technology, mobile communications, transport and autonomous vehicles.

Lead researcher and Lecturer in the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at the University of Bath, Dr. Biagio Forte, said: “With increasing dependency upon GNSS with the planned introduction of 5G networks and autonomous vehicles which rely heavily on GNSS, the need for accurate and reliable satellite navigation systems everywhere in the world has never been more critical.

“The potential impact of inaccurate GNSS signals could be severe. Whilst outages in mobile phones may not be life threatening, unreliability in satellite navigations systems in autonomous vehicles or drones delivering payloads could result in serious harm to both humans and the environment.

“This new understanding of the mechanisms which affect GNSS outages will lead to new technology that will enable safe and reliable satellite navigation.”

Nowadays people need to be connected to the internet anytime and anywhere, even on the world’s oceans and seas. Broadband is needed in vessels either for entertainment purposes or for business purposes. Internet connectivity is a vital requirement for crew retention and passenger satisfaction. This can be provided only by using satellite communications (VSAT) technology at sea, known as “Maritime VSAT.” There are various applications for Maritime VSAT which will be discussed in this blog. These applications require maintaining the connection between satellites and vessels during their movements at sea. This can be achieved by auto-acquisition and stabilized antenna systems, and the automatic switching technique that switches the traffic among VSAT beams. 

Maritime VSAT can support many types of services such as voice, video conferencing, fax, email as well as maritime surveillance and solution services, namely: 

  • Navigation 
  • Downloading electronic charts 
  • Monitoring of vessel location 
  • Transmitting information related to vessel operations 
  • Reporting finishing activities to comply with maritime and commercial regulations  

Maritime VSAT provides high speed connectivity to deliver these essential services to ships with excellent QoS. Three different frequency bands are currently used for maritime VSAT technology (Ku-Band, Ka-Band & C-Band). Each of these frequency bands has its suitable applications based on its own characteristics. The following comparison can illustrate the main differences among them:  

Item Ku-Band Ka-Band C-Band 
Frequency range 11 to 18 GHz 26 to 40 GHz 4 to 8 GHz 
Antenna Size (diameter) 0.9m to 1.8m 0.6m to 1.2m 1.8m to 3.7m 
Throughput ~10Mbps ~50Mbps ~10Mbps 
Suitable for  Small Vessels Cruise Ships Tankers or large vessels 

The question now is “Who will need such broadband services at the sea?” 

In fact, many maritime companies consider the use of broadband services at sea for their crew and passengers (such as tourists in cruise ships, fishers, sailors, engineers at oil rigs and personnel sailing tankers) as a critical component. Maritime VSAT technology can guarantee good Quality of Service (QoS) for all these applications during the vessel movement in almost any weather conditions.  

Maritime VSAT Components:

  1. Maritime VSAT components at the vessel: 

A stabilized VSAT antenna is installed on the vessel which is connected to a satellite router. This satellite router is responsible for routing the services to the LAN on the vessel, while the antenna is responsible for connecting the vessel to the global VSAT system using one of the VSAT frequency bands (C-band, Ku-band or Ka-band). 

2. Maritime VSAT components on land: 

The terrestrial landing point for maritime services is the Teleport. The teleport antenna receives the signals from the satellite. This antenna is connected to the hub system, which is subsequently connected to the internet. Due to the importance of this hub system it is usually monitored by NMS that is also responsible for controlling and configuring the maritime VSAT system. 

Maritime VSAT and Satellite Internet

Maritime VSAT Market: 

Maritime VSAT customer types vary based on the type of the reequired service. For example, government agencies need maritime VSAT to control navigation & fishing, while oil and gas companies need maritime VSAT to enhance their business by monitoring oil & gas rigs as oil and gas pipelines need to be monitored 24 hours per day and 7 days per week to guarantee the safe transmission of oil and gas through these pipelines.  

The number of ships navigating the world’s oceans is increasing rapidly due to the enhancement in world trade. This growing enhancement in trade increases maritime traffic in return. It is expected that maritime VSAT Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) will reach 13 to 14% before 2021. 

Link Communications Systems provides Maritime VSAT as a leading satellite Internet provider worldwide. LCS provides service to dozens of ships in the fishing, leisure, oil & gas, and freight shipping markets utilizing antenna systems from Intellian and Cobham and Inmarsat and providing services over KU, KA, and C band. The future of the maritime VSAT market is set to grow even further as is the future of broadband communications all over the world. 

According to the latest research by OrbisResearch.com the Global Small Satellite market is expected to grow from $ 2.28 billion in 2016 to reach $ 7.66 billion by 2023 with a CAGR of 18.8%. 

The satellite industry is an integral part of any economy for the development of infrastructure for government agencies and commercial companies. The growth of this segment is contributed to the increasing demand for high-resolution imaging services which is accompanied by high-speed communication services. North America accounted for largest market share followed by Asia pacific. 

The key trends of the market include increasing HD and UHD channel counts, adoption of new technologies, emerging regional operators, increased global broadband penetration, rising commercial GEO satellite orders and rising launches of Nano satellites. 

Satellite Market Growth

According to the Satellite Industries Association, Significant expansion in terms of capabilities and demand is underway in the small satellites market. Over 6,200 small satellites are expected to be launched over the next ten years, a substantial augmentation over that of the previous decade. The small satellites market from 2017-2026 will be driven by the roll-out of multiple constellations accounting for more than 70% of this total, mainly for commercial operators. 

The total market value of these small satellites could reach $30.1 billion in the next ten years, up from $8.9 billion over the previous decade.  

The small satellite market has quickly expanded over the last five years and will experience a sustained expansion in the future. Constellations’ demand is more cyclical with strong variations driven by deployment in batches whereas demand for single satellite missions is more stable. Improvements in performance also change the shape of the satellite; miniaturization is a continuous process which gives customers the choice between lighter satellites with the same capabilities or heavier, more powerful satellites. In the heaviest mass category, small satellites are now able to perform missions that in the past were only achievable by satellites heavier than 500kg. 

Satellites used for earth imagery accounted for just $2 billion of the total industry but accounted for 11 percent of the sectors growth.  

Of the total $16.5 billion manufacturing market value from 2017 to 2026, $3.7 billion is absorbed internally by in-house manufacturing; the remaining $12.8 billion is considered part of the open market. Over the period of the study (from 2007 to 2026), there is a clear divide in the typology of manufacturers of small satellites: In-house company and academia manufacturing rests in the realm of less than 50kg, while dedicated integrating companies comprise the realm of 50kg and higher. Considering the number of satellites that are being manufactured in-house or are captive to domestic manufacturers where tenders are not open to foreign bidders, the market potential for third-party industry does not comprise the entire market value. 

By end-user, commercial sector has acquired the largest market share. The growth of this segment is contributed to the increasing demand for high-resolution imaging services which is accompanied by high-speed communication services. North America accounted for largest market share followed by Asia pacific. 

According to another report, the market is classified into different segments based on orbit type, payload type, payload weight, vehicle type, frequency band, and application.  

The key factors driving the growth in the global satellite market includes growing mobile data traffic, increasing government space budgets, in-flight broadband services, rising Direct-to-home (DTH) channels, and rising middle class households. However, there are certain factors which are hindering the growth of the satellite market like launch failures, increasing financial challenges, and crowding of satellite spectrum, these include High production cost and Dearth of skilled workforce.  

Geographically, the Satellite Payloads market has been segmented into regions such as North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Rest of the World. The report covers North, America, US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Germany, France, Italy, UK, Spain, Rest of Europe, Asia Pacific, Japan, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Rest of Asia Pacific, Rest of the World, Middle East, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Egypt.  

Satellite Market Growth

The ecosystem of the satellite payloads market comprises manufacturers, suppliers, and technology support providers. Airbus Defense and Space (France), Boeing (U.S.), Thales Group (France), Lockheed Martin Corporation (U.S.), and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (Japan) are some of the established market players. These leading players offer advanced technology systems, products, and services. They also provide a broad range of management, engineering, technical, communications, and information service capabilities. 

According to the research analysis, in space-based platform segments, there are only a few major vendors that dominate the market. Thus, a strong and sturdy competition resides among vendors for securing key major military contracts. 

Satellite operators and military forces are rapidly adopting integrated communication and information sharing architecture. Companies with greater technical capabilities and financial resources are anticipated to develop and offer products and services that can make their competitors’ products non-competitive and obsolete, even before they are launched. Therefore, to survive and succeed in such an intensely competitive market, vendors are required to make their respective products and service offerings distinguishable through clear and unique value proposition.