Tag Archive for: LEO

DLR
  • DLR is developing distributed and heterogeneous on-board computers for future space missions.
  • Combination of radiation-resistant and commercially available processors that monitor each other and redistribute tasks in the event of an error.
  • Successful experiment with Earth observation data on an ESA test satellite.
  • Focus: space travel, earth observation, technology

Reliable and powerful computers play a central role in space travel: computer systems in satellites, for example, enable demanding earth observation missions. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is developing a new computer architecture that is intended to give the so-called on-board computers (OBC) more power and also enable them to repair themselves. Distributed heterogeneous OBCs are being developed in the ScOSA (Scalable On-Board Computing for Space Avionics) flight experiment project. You have different computing nodes connected as a network.

A general challenge for computer systems in satellites is that cosmic rays can disrupt the computers. “When a radiation particle flies through a memory, it might turn a zero into a one there,” explains project manager Daniel Lüdtke from the DLR Institute for Software Technology in Braunschweig . Ultimately, the system can even fail or deliver incorrect results. Radiation-resistant processors are therefore available for space travel. However, these are very expensive and have little computing power. On the other hand, processors, such as those used for smartphones, are very powerful and also cheaper. However, they are much more susceptible to cosmic radiation. ScOSA brings both processor types together in one system.

Test run on the test platform OPS-SAT in low earth orbit

The software recognizes errors and failures and controls the computer. “Programs running on a faulty processor are automatically transferred to other processors via the network,” says Daniel Lüdtke. Meanwhile, the satellite continues to work. The software then restarts the processor and integrates it back into the system.

An experiment on the satellite has now shown that this works OPS-SAT of the European Space Agency ESA shown. “The 30 x 10 x 10 centimeter small satellite with an experimental computer has been in low-Earth orbit since the end of 2019. OPS-SAT is available to researchers as a full-featured open platform,” explains Dave Evans, ESA’s OPS-SAT Project Manager.

The DLR scientists installed and successfully tested the ScOSA software on OPS-SAT together with ESA. For this purpose, the satellite created earth observation images, processed and evaluated them with artificial intelligence. The satellite then transmits only the usable images to a ground station. “Increasingly higher resolution sensors and complex algorithms require more and more computing power,” Daniel Lüdtke summarizes the requirements for software and hardware. A larger ScOSA system consisting of radiation-resistant and commercially available processors will soon be tested on DLR’s own CubeSat: the small satellite is expected to be launched into orbit at the end of next year.

Development of software for space missions

The Onboard Software Systems Group from the DLR Institute of Software Technology participates in a number of national and international space missions. A central research topic is the development of error-tolerant and so-called resilient software that can react to errors and failures. The ScOSA flight experiment project is a DLR research project in which the Institute for Software Technology , the DLR Institutes for Space Systems and Optical Sensor Systems as well as DLR Space Operations and Astronaut Training are involved.

Sony

Sony has formed a company to develop laser communications equipment for small satellites, drawing on optical disc technology it pioneered for CD players and other devices.

The Japanese conglomerate said June 2 it founded Sony Space Communications (SSC) in San Mateo, California, to help companies avoid running out of radio waves as the number of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) soars.

SSC plans to develop, build and supply devices that would enable small satellites to use laser beams instead of radio frequencies to communicate with ground stations — and each other for real-time connectivity.

The volume of data used in LEO is increasing every year but the amount of radio waves is limited, SSC president Kyohei Iwamoto said in a statement.

“Additionally, the need for frequency licenses for radio waves and the requirement for lower power consumption of communication equipment needed by smaller satellites, like micro satellites, are also issues to be addressed,” he said.

Conventional radio communications need larger satellite antennas and more power than optical networks, Sony said, making it “physically difficult” to achieve high speeds on small satellites.

Sony said it has been researching and developing optical communications systems that are small enough to fit microsatellites, which NASA defines as spacecraft between 10 and 100 kilograms.

The company did not say when its devices could be available or if it had customers lined up for the technology.

SSC plans to apply its optical disc technology to create satellite communication devices that are ultra-compact, lightweight, mass-producible and able to withstand harsh conditions in space.

In 2020, Sony said an optical communications device it developed in cooperation with Japan’s space agency was installed on Kibo, the Japanese experimental module on the International Space Station.

According to Sony, SOLISS, or Small Optical Link for International Space Station, established a bidirectional laser communications link with a space optical communication ground station in Japan, and successfully transmitted high-definition image data.

Sony also said it successfully conducted a data file transfer experiment this year that it says provides “the technological basis” for internet services through LEO optical communications.

MynaricCACITesat and other companies are also building out optical space businesses as laser communications technology matures.

Japan-based startup Warpspace is developing an inter-satellite laser communications system, and is also establishing a U.S. presence as it seeks to partner with American companies and compete for government and military contracts.

Project Kuiper

Amazon continues to deliver on its roadmap for Project Kuiper, a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite system designed to provide fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world. Amazon say they are excited to announce they’ve secured up to 83 launches from three commercial space companies—ArianespaceBlue Origin, and United Launch Alliance (ULA)—to provide heavy-lift capacity for the program. These agreements mean they have enough capacity to carry into space the majority of the 3,236 satellites that make up their satellite constellation.

The three agreements include 38 launches on ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, 18 launches on Arianespace’s Ariane 6, and 12 launches on Blue Origin’s New Glenn, with options for 15 additional launches. Together, they represent the largest commercial procurement of space launch services in history, and their investments will support thousands of suppliers and highly skilled jobs in the space industry across the United States and Europe.

Preparing to delight customers around the world

As part of Amazon’s family of products and services, Project Kuiper is working to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband service at an affordable price. The Kuiper System includes three key elements: advanced LEO satellites; small, affordable customer terminals; and a secure, resilient ground-based communications network.

Project Kuiper will leverage Amazon’s global logistics and operations footprint to provide excellent customer service and Amazon Web Services will provide networking and infrastructure to serve a diverse, global customer base. They’ll also apply Amazon’s experience producing low-cost devices and services like Echo and Kindle to deliver broadband service at an affordable, accessible price for customers.

Once deployed, the Kuiper System will serve individual households, as well as schools, hospitals, businesses, disaster relief efforts, government agencies, and other organizations operating in places without reliable broadband.

A global launch partnership

Launch partners will provide Amazon with heavy-lift launch services over a five-year period. Heavy-lift rockets offer the right combination of capacity, performance, and cost to get the constellation to space efficiently. Project Kuiper satellites will launch on Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket out of the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, and Blue Origin’s New Glenn and ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets out of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

“These launch agreements reflect our incredible belief in Project Kuiper, and we’re proud to be working with such an impressive lineup of partners to deliver on our mission,” said Amazon Senior Vice President Dave Limp, who oversees Amazon Devices & Services. “Securing launch capacity from multiple providers reduces scheduling risk and helps us secure competitive, long-term pricing that we can pass on to Project Kuiper customers as cost savings.”

The new agreements are in addition to the existing deal for nine launches on Atlas V vehicles from ULA to help deploy the Project Kuiper constellation, as well as two RS1 launches from ABL Space Systems to deploy the prototype KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 satellites.

Scalable technology to dispense satellites

Launch is just one piece of getting satellites safely into space. It also needs a system to securely deploy satellites at the correct altitudes for insertion into orbit. Amazon have completed an agreement with Switzerland-headquartered Beyond Gravity (formerly RUAG Space) to build the low-cost, versatile satellite dispensers that will deploy the Project Kuiper constellation. Beyond Gravity’s dispensers can easily scale up and down in capacity to fit the different rockets we’re using.

The Project Kuiper contract is the single-largest order in Beyond Gravity’s history. The company is doubling its production capacity as a result, opening a second production facility in Linköping, Sweden, where it will create dozens of jobs.

Bolstering the commercial space industry

These investments in Project Kuiper will also benefit the wider launch services industry, accelerating the pace of innovation, improving launch infrastructure, and supporting thousands of suppliers and highly skilled jobs in 49 U.S. states and 13 European countries.

For instance, in addition to launch services, the contract with ULA also covers production and launch infrastructure to support more launches, timed closer together, at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. That work includes a new, dedicated version of the Vulcan Launch Platform. ULA is also making investments in their Spaceflight Processing and Operations Center to deliver a second ULA facility capable of full vehicle processing, with two parallel “launch lanes” for high-cadence operations.

There are now more than 1,000 people working on the Project Kuiper program as they prepare to serve tens of millions of customers around the world.

LEO

LEO satellite broadband connectivity’s demand has been ever increasing. As of 2020, there were one billion broadband subscriptions including Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable, or fiber-optic broadband services. Telecoms have been working to replace low-speed DSL broadband with fiber-optic broadband service. In 2020 alone, there were 42 million fiber-optic broadband net additions.

Cable network operators also continue to upgrade the networks to DOCSIS 3.1 to support Gigabit speed broadband access. Despite the advancements in different broadband technologies, only around half of total households in the world are connected to a type of fixed broadband. Among the households which are not connected to fixed broadband access, mobile network is the primary connectivity for internet access since many populations use internet via their mobile phones. Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband services using mobile networks and proprietary technologies have also been filling the broadband gap across different markets. Satellite has been an important technology to provide broadband in remote areas where it is challenging to deploy other terrestrial broadband networks.

The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the importance of broadband connectivity in both social and economic aspects of work, learning, communication, shopping, and healthcare. Although network operators have managed the traffic surge contributed by home broadband networks well, governments around the world have witnessed that populations without efficient connectivity faced challenges to navigate through the pandemic. While households in the areas with limited fixed infrastructure need to rely on mobile network to access internet, it should be noted that 8 percent of the world’s population is still outside the mobile internet coverage according to the GSA. There is clearly a digital divide across different markets which needs to be addressed.

The Role of Satellite Broadband

Internet access via satellite networks has been a crucial solution for use cases such as emergency response, maritime, aviation, and broadband access in remote areas. Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellite systems are the primary platform to provide broadband service, but only at a limited speed, between 5 Megabytes per second to 100 Megabytes per second, and with high latency, around 500 milliseconds, compared to other broadband platforms. Hardware and installation cost, usually above $300 is relatively high for consumers in emerging markets to get satellite broadband service. It is estimated that satellite market is providing around 3.5 million subscriptions worldwide as of today with the highest subscriber concentration in North America, followed by Europe.

Although satellite networks cover almost everywhere around the world, high cost of receiver hardware, low speed, and high latency have been a barrier for satellite broadband services to gain mass adoption. Recent Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite development by SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper are expected to change market dynamics since shorter distance from Earth’s surface enables LEO satellites to support latency as low as 30 milliseconds.

What is the Outlook for LEO Satellite Broadband in 2022?

LEO satellite broadband is still a niche market. According to SpaceX, which launched LEO broadband service Starlink in late 2020, it has now achieved around a 90,000-user base. It recently gained license to operate StarLink service in Mexico and is now trying to secure license to operate in India, one of the markets with lowest fixed broadband penetration. OneWeb, another LEO platform which aims to enter broadband market, has launched over 300 satellites in late 2021 after securing agreement with AT&T to provide broadband connectivity for AT&T business customers. Amazon provide a new progress regarding Project Kuiper as they announced that they have secured up to 83 launches from three commercial space companies—ArianespaceBlue Origin, and United Launch Alliance (ULA)—to provide heavy-lift capacity for the program..

Although LEO platforms supports low latency, high terminal cost is possibly a key challenge to expanding the customer base. Considering majority of the market opportunity existing in emerging market, heavily subsidized terminal cost of $500 is beyond the reach of most consumers. Despite attempts by industry players to reduce terminal cost, the current adoption rate which needs only low hardware volume, terminal cost deduction cannot be done enough yet. Furthermore, LEO platforms face inevitable competition from terrestrial broadband platforms. Especially the expansion of LTE networks and future 5G roll outs in emerging markets will continue to compete against LEO broadband services. Due to mass adoption, terrestrial networks tend to achieve faster ecosystem development which brings wider choice of hardware and software and lower cost to develop cost per user.

LEO platforms will need other players coming into the market soon since competition is expected to increase adoption rate and create a force to lower the terminal cost. Considering current market dynamics, there is a potential to of LEO broadband market to grow in 2022, however at the limited pace. LEO broadband services are likely to gain subscriber base from both consumer and business segments in advanced markets. However, business and government user base are likely to be major drivers of LEO broadband market in emerging markets. Initial target of LEO platforms is not to replace wired broadband services, but to connect the unconnected population. To achieve their goal, the ability to support enough capacity in targeted market is crucial. As competition arrives, improvements in hardware cost and features are expected to speed up accelerating the adoption in the residential market in the next few years.