Tag Archive for: LEO

DoD could take advantage of low Earth orbit satellites to deliver 5G for mobile users.

A $600 million DoD initiative to demonstrate 5G wireless networks at military bases nationwide is primarily focused on terrestrial communications but is being closely watched by the satellite industry as non-terrestrial networks increasingly become part of the 5G ecosystem.  

These DoD experiments with 5G also will serve as an indicator of how the military intends to employ commercial technologies for fixed and mobile communications, which could shape future demand for space-based services.

 “The question is where do they go with it?” said Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the defense business division of Hughes Network Systems. 

Satellite operators Hughes and Viasat are among several telecommunications technology firms that have won Pentagon contracts under the 5G pilot project.

“After this experimentation phase, we understand that in the 2024 budget cycle we may see it being programmed in for operational use,” Lober told SpaceNews. 

The next step would be for DoD to take advantage of Low Earth Orbit satellites with lower latencies to deliver 5G for mobile users, Lober said. 

“What we’re doing now is terrestrial. But what’s coming next is that a 5G standard is going to be adopted for space. So we’re going to be talking about satellite-direct-to-phone connections, probably using LEO networks,” he said.

Hughes, an investor in OneWeb, plans to partner with the company on DoD 5G efforts. 

Most recently, satellite communication provider SatixFy Technology announced it successfully demonstrated 5G backhaul communications connected to a OneWeb satellite in low Earth orbit.

Amazon’s LEO network known as Project Kuiper has teamed with Verizon Communications to pair Verizon’s 5G terrestrial mobile network with Kuiper satellites. 

The Pentagon views the 5G race as part of the U.S. strategic competition with China, and DoD could leverage mobile 5G to fill communications needs not currently met by military satellites, said Lober. 

A major development for space-based 5G was the recent release of standards by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the international body responsible for defining technical specifications for mobile wireless networks.. The latest standards release — 3GPP Release 17 — deals with non-terrestrial networks and supports expansion of coverage using satellites.

“Commercial industry is driving that, and I think the DoD can really take advantage of it,” said Lober. “5G gives you much higher throughput, and much lower latency. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that lower latency allows you to do edge computing on the battlefield.”

The satcom industry expects more funding for 5G in the Pentagon’s 2024 budget, he said. “We hope to see funding to take what we’ve done experimenting with terrestrial and make it operational.”

Commercial mobile 5G from space would be a worthwhile option for DoD to fill future narrowband communications needs, he added. The U.S. Space Force is considering buying two more Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites that provide voice and low-rate data transfer for mobile users.

Current MUOS satellites are oversubscribed, and the Space Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives to determine whether it should buy two more MUOS, opt for a new design or use commercial services. 

One of the issues with MUOS is that there are not enough user handsets and terminals in the U.S. military to take advantage of the features of the more advanced payload. Most users have older terminals that only communicate with MUOS legacy payload that has outdated technology. 

“This has been a big problem,” said Lober. “Commercially, we look at space, ground terminal and network management, all in parallel.”

Now the industry is moving to space-based 5G and “we feel that the DoD should strongly consider that for their narrowband analysis of alternatives,” said Lober. “The beauty of that is that if you can get the same device to operate terrestrial and space, you’re really advancing things.”

Space logistics company D-Orbit announced a $2 million contract June 9 with the European Space Agency to upgrade production of its ION Satellite Carrier.

It was the latest win for the Italian firm with ambitious plans to offer a wide range of satellite services from active debris removal to space-based cloud computing.

Under the contract, ESA will fund D-Orbit’s campaign to improve the performance and reduce the cost of ION, the vehicle that transports cubesats and microsatellites from the point where a large rocket drops them off to their desired orbital destinations.

The growing popularity of rideshare flights like SpaceX Transporter missions is expected to spur demand for last-mile delivery. Euroconsult’s Space Logistics Markets report released in May forecasts 120 orbital transfer vehicles in operation by 2031.

About a dozen companies around the world are designing, developing and testing orbital transfer vehicles.

D-Orbit first demonstrated its last-mile delivery service in 2020. Over six flights, D-Orbit has transported more than 80 payloads in orbit, including 60 satellites deployed from ION and additional payloads hosted onboard.

Spaceflight Inc.’s first Sherpa LTE, launched in June 2021, also used an electric propulsion system to execute maneuvers and change altitudes working under a customer’s direction. The Seattle company declined to name the customer or provide additional details.

D-Orbit also maintains a line of products and services for other space companies.

Beyond Gravity, for example, formerly called Ruag Space, awarded D-Orbit a contract in April to supply carbon fiber-reinforced polymer tools and metallic structural components for ESA’s Space Rider. Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor for Space Rider, an uncrewed laboratory designed to house technology demonstrations and science experiments in low-Earth orbit, before returning payloads to Earth. The Space Rider vehicle will then be refurbished, refueled and loaded for another flight.

The Space Rider mission “is perfectly in line with our vision to enable profitable business and human expansion in a sustainable space,” Renato Panesi, D-Orbit founder and chief commercial officer, told SpaceNews.

Over the long term, D-Orbit seeks to dominate the space logistics market.

“The idea is to take care of the customer’s journey from mission analysis to launch to decommissioning,” Panesi said. “It’s about having your assets correctly positioned when you want.”

D-Orbit intends to offer satellite services including inspection, refueling and small repairs.

“Maybe we can consider active debris removal as part of the service, today in low-Earth orbit, later on in geostationary orbit,” Panesi said. “In the far future, we do for see potential markets for recycling and in-orbit manufacturing.”

In the meantime, D-Orbit is laying the groundwork for a space-based cloud computing business.

“If we manage to have an ION equipped with its own cloud computing suite and intersatellite links, we can have a small constellation of nodes processing information,” Panesi said.

D-Orbit worked with Sweden’s Unibap to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing module onboard ION in 2021.

“One of the things we’re going to test later this year or the beginning of next year will be the intersatellite links, both optical and radio frequencies,” Panesi said.

On the financial side, D-Orbit is preparing to merge with Breeze Holdings Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. The merger is expected to conclude in the third quarter of this year.

While SPACs are not as popular in the space sector as they were in 2021, Panesi remains confident the deal will benefit D-Orbit.

“On one side, we are securing capital,” Panesi said. “On the other side, we have a valuable partner to help us enter, one step at a time, the big U.S. market.”

D-Orbit employs about 200 people, with the majority based near the firm’s Como, Italy headquarters. In addition, D-Orbit has offices in Portugal, the United Kingdom and Falls Church, Virginia.

‘NOAA is able to continue the operation of its legacy satellites without those costly capital investments to its ground infrastructure’ – Kitay told SpaceNews.

Over the last year, Microsoft and Xplore worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to show how commercial services could support operations of polar-orbiting weather satellites.

During a proof-of-concept demonstration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration obtained data downlinked from NOAA-18 through an Azure Orbital ground station in Quincy, Washington, to the Azure cloud. Commands to the 17-year-old satellite were sent with Xplore’s Major Tom mission control software running in Azure Orbital.

“By combining Azure Orbital with Xplore’s Major Tom mission control software platform, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was able to securely transmit commands to its NOAA-18 spacecraft and verify receipt of those commands in near real-time,” Stephen Kitay, Microsoft Azure Space senior director, told SpaceNews. “What this allows our customers to do is rather than paying for fully manned, dedicated infrastructure, they’re paying for a service. There are no capital expenditures. They are only paying for what they need. NOAA is able to continue the operation of its legacy satellites without those costly capital investments to its ground infrastructure.”

In terms of security, Microsoft’s “cloud-based solutions performed successfully across the measures that NOAA set out,” Kitay said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investing in a new generation of Earth-observing satellites as well as ground and IT systems to transfer data  into the cloud. Ground-station-as-a-service and cloud-services providers are expected to play an important role in helping NOAA process, disseminate and store data.

In April, NOAA sought information from contractors interested in providing engineering and information-technology services, and handling flight operations for polar-orbiting satellites NOAA-15, NOAA-18 and NOAA-19.

The NOAA-18 demonstration could inform that effort and also prompt other government agencies to turn to commercial clouds for primary or backup satellite services.

“I would envision the future is a hybrid architecture where the government has unique government applications and missions, but they are also leveraging commercial technologies and integrating those technologies into the missions that they are performing,” Kitay said.

When Microsoft and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration signed the cooperative research and development agreement last year, their partner was Kubos. In April, Xplore acquired Kubos and its Major Tom software.

“By our continued support of the Major Tom team, we were able to continue that work,” said Lisa Rich, Xplore founder and chief operating officer.

  • 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.