In 2001, the night sky was lit up by an extraordinary meteor shower. The Leonid meteors were so prolific that this shower became the most active in more than three decades. Astro Live Experiences Brings

But the Leonid meteor shower did more than make history and paint bright streaks in the sky; it presented a brilliant idea. Watching this far-out show, an inspired Lena Okajima, an avid stargazer and then astronomy Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo, thought about creating a man-made meteor shower. Perhaps destiny was written in the stars that night. Because 10 years later, Okajima went on to found Astro Live Experiences (ALE), the company behind the “space-based fireworks” that have sparked attention around the world.

Fresh attention ignited in January this year when Tokyo-based ALE successfully launched its first satellite, the ALE-1, onboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Epsilon-4 rocket. When ready for testing, likely in the spring of next year, the satellite in an altitude below 400 Kilometers (km) will release a cluster of centimeter-sized pellets that will (hopefully) beautifully burn up to create space fireworks for the watchers down below. ALE’s second satellite, which will generate man-made meteors, is currently being developed. The satellite is expected to be completed this spring and is scheduled for launch this summer.

To get this right, technological feats have had to be realized. To generate a man-made meteor at a desired location and time, the meteor particle release parameters must be fine-tuned to a very high degree of accuracy. For this, ALE developed an in-house a unique particle release system capable of releasing particles at a high level of precision over the operational lifetime of the satellite, which could have up to several thousand releases. Additionally, the satellite incorporates the latest Japanese technology for the calculation and execution of the required release direction, position and speed. Together as a unit, the highly precise release conditions are achieved. ALE fully controls timing, angle and velocity, and claims its particle system is highly accurate under vacuum conditions.

Contributing to science

It’s not just about creating shooting stars artificially and using space for entertainment, though. ALE’s mission is also to bring New Space closer to people, says Okajima, a native of Tottori city, part of a prefecture in Japan famous for its beautiful starry sky. Beyond entertainment, ALE is seeking to contribute to scientific development, she said.

“We aspire to cast an anchor in space as humankind sets out to find to new horizons. We also believe we can advance knowledge in space and atmospheric phenomena, as well as the interaction between materials and high-speed air. We believe the shooting star re-entry will enable the advancement of atmosphere, material and plasma sciences to support the development of high-speed transportation systems, to mitigate space debris, and to answer key issues of meteor sciences as well as understand climate phenomena and their impact on our daily life,” said Okajima. “We aim to develop space technologies that could be useful for Earthlings as well as to stimulate curiosity and empower people to explore the infinite possibilities that space offers.”

Contribution to scientific development include new observational data on the mesosphere, the region of the Earth’s atmosphere which is 60-80 km above the ground. Situated above the stratosphere and below the thermosphere, the mesosphere is not thoroughly understood to date, said Okajima, noting that utilization of new data would, therefore, be significant.

“Our project is safe, beautiful and useful. We also educate children and citizens, and empower them to be the next actors of the space race,” said Okajima, adding that ALE has thoroughly considered the “burning issue” of space debris and is compliant with world-wide regulations.

“We’re aligned with space agencies, committees such as the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), and research institutes equipped with tracking devices. We carried out extensive tests in plasma facilities operated at representative conditions as well as high-fidelity simulations. From the latter, the meteor particles will completely disappear at about 60-80 km above the ground and will not reach anywhere near the ground,” said Okajima.

Before and during a release of meteor particle, the ALE satellite performs multiple safety checks to avoid any unintended collisions between an ALE meteor particle and other space objects, such as satellites. Astro Live Experiences Brings

Lockheed Martin's nanosatellite bus, the LM 50, will host the first SmartSat-enabled missions set for delivery this year. Photo: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin’s nanosatellite bus, the LM 50, will host the first SmartSat-enabled missions set for delivery this year.

Aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin will integrate its new software-defined satellite architecture, SmartSat, on 10 of its nanosatellite missions this year, starting with Linus and Pony Express. The new software-defined capability is designed to allow satellites to change their missions in orbit, letting users “add capability and assign new missions with a software push, just like adding an app on a smartphone”.

The Linus project will deliver two 12U CubeSats based on the Lockheed Martin LM 50 nanosatellite bus design that will test and validate SmartSat capabilities as well as 3D-printed spacecraft components.

The Pony Express mission aims to send several 6U satellites destined for a Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The group of small satellites will test Radio Frequency (RF)-enabled swarming formations and space-to-space networking. Pony Express 1, designed over the course of nine months, is a pathfinder for a software-defined payload that will test cloud computing infrastructure. The company has yet to announce a set launch date scheduled for the programs.

SmartSat uses a high-power, radiation-hardened computer developed by the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC), which is co-funded by Lockheed Martin. The technology takes advantage of multi-core processing and uses a hypervisor to “containerize” virtual machines — allowing a single computer to operate multiple servers virtually, maximizing memory. The aim of the design is to enable satellites to process more data in-orbit and prioritize which data gets beamed down back to Earth.

Lockheed Martin Space Executive Vice President (VP) Rick Ambrose said that his company was self-funding the LM 50 missions to demonstrate a number of plug-and-play capabilities across its entire fleet, ranging from its LM 50 nanosatellite bus to its flagship LM 2100. “And the same technology not only plugs into ground stations, improving space-ground integration, but it will also one day connect directly with planes, ships, and ground vehicles, connecting front-line users to the power of space like never before,” said Ambrose.

He added that Lockheed designed SmartSat with cybersecurity in mind, as satellites equipped with the new capability could potentially reset themselves faster and diagnose security issues with greater precision. “[SmartSat] satellites can also better detect and defend against cyber threats autonomously, and on-board cyber defenses can be updated regularly to address new threats.”

In May, Ambrose will speak on a software-defined panel at SATELLITE 2019, titled “Software-Defined Satellites for a Software-Defined Industry.” The panel, which will discuss initiatives and technologies that allow operators to code for a platform and to design and run virtual machines on a satellite, will also feature Lockheed Martin’s largest aerospace competitors — AirbusNorthrop Grumman, and Thales Alenia Space.

Artist's rendition of an Earth station with High Throughput Satellite (HTS) data flow. Photo: Shutterstock/ PPM-ViaLite

Artist’s rendition of an Earth station with High Throughput Satellite (HTS) data flow.

Today, big data is being collected thousands of miles up in space by a whole host of orbiting satellites. The increase in data volumes continues to grow exponentially as more satellites are launched. According to a report, 6,200 small satellites are expected to be launched over the next 10 years. The falling costs of satellites and their growing sophistication have enabled new uses for “space data” across many industries and fueled investment in the sector.

The satellites orbit 99 to 1,200 miles (160 to 2,000 kilometers) above the Earth and provide an overhead view using cameras and sensors to create a very unique dataset. Those images are analyzed by computers using Machine Learning (ML) algorithms that extract information and extrapolate patterns. The applications for this space data are many and diverse. Traffic patterns in large cities can be used to better design future cities; maritime transportation activity and logistics can be tracked; foot traffic patterns at retail locations can be analyzed to determine consumer behavior, and farmers can better understand what factors influence the growth of crops.

This revolution in space is drastically changing the dynamics on the ground. Teleport operators are in the business of creating and managing the capacity of networks, of transmission systems, and of analog and digital processing. These operators are transforming from traditional antenna farms that provide satellite access to data centers with dishes that layer on value-added capabilities and services.

Many teleport operators are virtualizing ground infrastructure and taking advantage of cloud-based technologies and infrastructure. This includes the transition from analog to digital teleports. Digitization enables cloud-based Intermediate Frequency (IF) and Radio Frequency (RF) processing which is lowering costs and increasing operational flexibility. The cloud is a key enabler that offers an alternative to building or leasing infrastructure that dramatically reduces ground segment infrastructure costs and provides faster data downloads and immediate data processing. In this way, cloud services are a new and important kind of capacity that has the potential of becoming a staple within space operations.

However, collecting and transmitting space data is not the hardest part. With volumes in the petabytes of data, processing and analyzing the vast amounts of data sent to the ground is a challenging endeavor but offers the greatest opportunity for operators. Recent advances in robotics, ML, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are pushing the frontier of what machines are capable of doing to unlock the secrets of space data. The ability to leverage intelligence and data analytics is already having a large impact. According to NSR, big data analytics via satellite will generate close to $18.1 billion in cumulative revenues by 2027. The highest increase will be in satellite imagery for data analytics applications, which are predicted to grow at an impressive 23.5 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) through to 2027.

There are big opportunities for teleport and satellite operators in this high-growth market. NSR estimates that the biggest markets for big data via satellite will be in transportation, government/military, and oil and gas — sectors where teleport operators are deeply entrenched. To capitalize, operators must evolve beyond traditional services to manage complex networks, deliver information processing services, and leverage intelligence to provide value-added big space data capabilities. With this vast amount of data, the right analytical tools, and ample processing power to crunch the numbers, teleport operators can turn big space data into smart insights that enhance productivity, raise throughput, and improve predictions, outcomes, accuracy, and optimization.

Telefonica CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete López. Photo: Telefonica

Telefonica CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete López speaking at Mobile World Congress.

The rise and rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was at the heart of many keynote presentations on day one of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. José María Álvarez-Pallete López, chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Telefonica — one of the world’s biggest Telco’s — spoke of how networks will get smarter as they become AI-driven. He gave the interesting statistic that mobile data traffic is growing at more than 50 percent every year, and said no other sector comes close to this level of growth.

Interestingly, he was one of the speakers that urged governments not to look at 5G as a cash cow. “Why do we need to acquire the same spectrum over and over again? We need a refresh, and a bold regulatory approach,” he said. “The aim of regulators should be to reduce regulation. Governments are using the spectrum as cash generators. Spectrum needs to be awarded for a longer period of time.”

López spoke of the new global data sphere, and how we are flooded with data. However, he spoke of how this data revolution could help revolutionize sectors such as transportation and health, and how data now powers “information factories.” “People give it (data) away in exchange for free services. Data should be treated as a new factor of production. Data is like dignity. It has its own value. We need a data bill of rights. This will take a forward-looking approach. In Telefonica, we want to put customers in control of their data. We are working on a data portability model for our customers,” he said.

He also spoke of Telco’s being responsible business spreading the benefits of intelligent connectivity. “We need to have more sustainable business models. We need to do business in a financially, in a socially responsible and environmental way. The opportunity is amazing,” he said.

Another company that spoke was SingTel, an Asian telco, that has spread far beyond the boundaries of Singapore. SingTel CEO Chua Sock Koong stated that mobile connectivity transforms the life of billions. The statistics she gave were quite mind-boggling. More than two-thirds of people are now connected to mobile. There are 8.8 billion mobile connections. There are 3.3 billion mobile internet users, there will be 1.3 billion 5G subscribers in 2025. 5G goes beyond just connecting people — it makes the Internet of Things (IoT) applications a reality. There will more than 25 billion global IOT connections by 2025, and data-driven value creation will reach $4.6 trillion.

However, while Chua talked about the potential opportunity for Telco’s, she spoke with a degree of caution similar to Lopez. “Mobile revenue growth is stagnating even if data growth is growing rapidly with 400 percent data growth by 2025. There is subdued mobile revenue growth on mobile operators who are investing billions on new networks. There is a dichotomy taking place here,” she said.

GSMA Director General Mats Granryd spoke of the benefits of 5G and said that the industry needed to move beyond just connectivity to “intelligent connectivity.” Although he spoke about its applications in several areas, he highlighted how AI and intelligent connectivity can help in healthcare He said, “Tuberculosis kills more than any other disease in the world — 2000 people will die today from it. With Big Data, we can predict where the next outbreak will happen, and put up treatment centers. The possibilities for intelligent connectivity are endless. Doctors can also perform real-time remote surgery.”

Like others, he urged governments around the world not to engage in a short-term land grab. “If the mobile ecosystem would be a country, we would take the place of Germany as the fourth largest in the world,” he said. “We are at the heart of the global industry. We need a framework for the digital age. Our message to governments is: don’t get short-term greedy and kill the golden goose.”

European Commission

The European Commission (EC) Digital Economy and Society Commissioner Mariya Gabriel spoke of her ambitions to make Europe a global leader in terms of 5G and AI. She said that the EC has supported investments in research. “We have set-up a large scale European 5G piloting structure. European operators will launch 5G services commercially this year. Europe has to keep pace with other regions,” she said.

Gabriel said she was “well aware” of the unrest with the key actors in telecoms players around cybersecurity. She also said it was the EC’s intention to give a major boost to AI-related research and innovation. “We want to reach $22.6 billion (20 billion euros) in AI-related investment,” she said.


Not surprisingly, the satellite wasn’t mentioned at all during the first morning. However, reading between the lines, Telco’s are using statistics to show their need for spectrum. All we’re talking about the inflection point of 5G, AI, the blockchain, and Big Data leading to the biggest revolution of modern times. However, with wireless players hinting at how they need to make more profits from their huge investments in 5G, the stage is set for an interesting few years ahead. There is no doubt that the fusion of AI and 5G in this new data world will lead to new digital economies where more digital skills will be needed. The new industrial revolution is happening. The question is — what role will the satellite industry play in this revolution? That is to be determined.