Tag Archive for: LEO

Lynk Global, a U.S.-based startup, is making strides in the Pacific island nation of Palau, where the Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC), the country’s largest telecom operator, plans to become the first to use Lynk’s direct-to-device satellites commercially. This technology will provide wireless customers in Palau with connectivity outside terrestrial network coverage.

The technology is set to be deployed in Palau’s southwest region, specifically in the Sonsorol state. With Lynk’s direct-to-device satellites, PNCC customers will be able to send and receive periodic texts up to three times a day. This new service will be accessible via their existing mobile phones, replacing the current usage of radios on very high frequency (VHF) spectrum for communications in that area.

Lynk Global currently operates three small satellites in a low Earth orbit constellation. The company plans to expand this constellation to increase coverage and reduce latency, with the ultimate goal of enabling additional connectivity services, including voice calls. The move by PNCC in Palau is a significant step towards making Lynk’s satellite communication services commercially available to a broader user base.

Lynk Global has ambitious plans to expand its satellite constellation and provide satellite-enabled coverage to a wide range of locations, including the Pacific island nation of Palau. The Virginia-based venture has secured funding to launch three more satellites in the fall and has commitments for an additional six satellites to be deployed in January.

The company aims to have more than 50 satellites operational by the end of 2024, with plans for a constellation of approximately 5,000 satellites in total. For PNCC in Palau, Lynk’s deployment plan would allow them to expand satellite-enabled coverage to two more islands by the end of 2023, and eventually provide coverage to all of Palau’s 300+ islands and surrounding waters by March.

Beyond providing universal service to Palau, Lynk’s satellite network can also serve as a backup in case of natural disasters that disrupt the country’s ground network.

Lynk has signed agreements with more than 30 companies, and the startup has successfully demonstrated its technology in over 40 countries on seven continents. This progress indicates growing interest and confidence in the use of satellite-based communications solutions for expanding connectivity in remote and challenging environments.

Lynk Global is making progress in securing regulatory approvals to operate its direct-to-device satellite services in various countries, including the United States. The startup has announced plans to launch commercially in New Zealand this fall and in Canada early next year through partnerships with mobile operators. However, specific details about other countries where Lynk intends to offer its services have not been disclosed.

In the emerging direct-to-device market, Lynk’s competitors include AST SpaceMobile, a Texas-based startup that plans to launch its first five commercial satellites early next year. AST SpaceMobile recently achieved 4G LTE download speeds during tests with its prototype satellite, BlueWalker 3, in low Earth orbit. These successful tests demonstrated the capability of providing high-speed data services to mobile devices in remote areas using their satellite network.

The direct-to-device satellite industry is gaining momentum, with multiple companies striving to provide reliable and accessible connectivity services to areas beyond the reach of traditional terrestrial networks. As these companies continue to develop and deploy their satellite constellations, they are likely to play a significant role in expanding global connectivity and bridging the digital divide.

Mynaric, a laser communication company, has been contracted by Raytheon Technologies to supply 21 optical terminals for seven satellites that Raytheon is building for the Space Development Agency (SDA). The optical terminals provided by Mynaric will enable laser communications capabilities for the missile-tracking satellites being developed by Raytheon.

Laser communication, also known as optical communication, offers high-bandwidth and secure data transmission between satellites and ground stations. By using laser links, these satellites will be able to efficiently transfer large amounts of data, such as tracking information, in real-time.

The satellites are part of the Space Development Agency’s efforts to enhance the United States‘ missile tracking and defense capabilities by establishing a resilient and robust space-based sensor layer.

The satellites are being developed under a $250 million contract from the Space Development Agency (SDA) for the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer project.

The Tranche 1 Tracking Layer aims to create a network of 35 satellites, including the seven satellites by Raytheon, as well as 14 satellites by Northrop Grumman and 14 by L3Harris Technologies. These satellites will be launched into low-Earth orbit in 2025.

The Raytheon satellites for the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer will be equipped with wide field-of-view infrared sensors, and three optical communications terminals provided by Mynaric. Their primary mission is to detect, identify, and track hypersonic weapons and advanced missiles from the early stages of launch to interception.

Mynaric is set to supply Raytheon with Condor Mk3 terminals for their seven military satellites. The deliveries are projected to take place in 2024. This order adds to Mynaric’s significant presence as an optical terminals provider for the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) proliferated constellation.

In the past year, Mynaric had previously announced that it will provide 42 Condor Mk3 terminals for Northrop Grumman’s 14 Tracking Layer satellites, further solidifying its position in the SDA’s satellite network.

Additionally, L3Harris made a strategic investment in Mynaric, and Mynaric established a strategic supplier relationship with Northrop Grumman in 2021. With these partnerships and orders, Mynaric is well-positioned to play a crucial role in providing optical communication solutions for the SDA’s satellite projects.

OneWeb, the British operator of a low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband network, has launched a free trial offer for maritime customers. The company recently expanded its network coverage to include a larger portion of the northern hemisphere, now reaching down to 35 degrees latitude. This expansion enables coverage across Europe and the upper United States. OneWeb’s network has 634 satellites in LEO, and it is currently in the process of finalizing the necessary ground stations for global coverage, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The “try before you buy” deal for maritime customers lasts for 45 days and is facilitated through OneWeb’s network of distribution partners. The financial costs for OneWeb’s enterprise-grade maritime services, which promise speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps), have not been disclosed.

In comparison, SpaceX’s Starlink LEO constellation, another provider of global connectivity, offers maritime services starting at $250 per month. Starlink advertises download speeds of up to 220 Mbps and requires a one-time hardware fee of $2,500, which includes an antenna built in-house.

Kymeta, based in the United States, and Intellian, based in South Korea, are the providers of antennas for OneWeb’s maritime services. These antennas will enable connectivity for maritime customers using OneWeb’s low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband network.

In addition to the maritime service announcement, OneWeb also revealed its plans to expand its distribution partnership with Hughes Network Systems. Hughes, an investor in OneWeb through its parent company EchoStar, will provide global inflight connectivity (IFC) services to airlines once OneWeb’s LEO services are available next year. Hughes has developed an electronically steered antenna specifically designed for the partnership, allowing aircraft to connect to both LEO and geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites.

Depending on the specific requirements of airlines, the partnership aims to offer a choice between a LEO-only solution or a hybrid service that combines both LEO and GEO connectivity.

OneWeb’s range of services extends beyond maritime and inflight connectivity. They also offer fixed and mobile land-based connectivity services for enterprises and governments.

Hughes, in addition to its involvement in providing inflight connectivity, has played a significant role in engineering OneWeb’s gateways. As a distribution partner, Hughes is responsible for distributing OneWeb’s fixed satellite services in the United States and India. Furthermore, Hughes distributes OneWeb’s connectivity solutions to the U.S. Department of Defense, catering to their specific communication needs.

Viasat is seeking to create hybrid narrowband direct-to-smartphone services using satellites in geostationary and non-geostationary orbits according to its CEO, Mark Dankberg, who spoke at the SmallSat Symposium in California on Feb. 8.

Viasat is open to partnering with low Earth orbit companies, including rival SpaceX. The acquisition of Inmarsat is still awaiting regulatory approval, and Viasat is focusing on improving payload integration to save space by looking at standardized cubesat-type form factors to allow new entrants into these systems.

Advances in technology are making it easier to communicate from orbit without large antennas or specialized phones, and direct-to-smartphone capabilities are becoming increasingly compelling. However, Viasat is aware of the potential negative impact of having any cell phone or smartwatch in the world connect directly to a space system, which is not consistent with the self-interest of many nations.

As direct-to-smartphone efforts pick up, it is likely to have knock-on effects across the rest of the space industry, including putting more mass into orbit, increasing the threat of collisions that could threaten the viability of space operations for all operators.

Dankberg told the SmallSat Symposium that while Viasat made its multi-billion dollar offer for Inmarsat because of its international broadband presence, its direct-to-smartphone narrowband capabilities are increasingly compelling.

He said “one of the biggest potential markets is direct-to-device,” which is “going to have a big influence, both positive and negative when it comes to … the self-interest of nations.”

Advances in technology and telecom protocol standardization are making it easier to communicate to and from orbit without large antennas or specialized phones. 

“It’s possible to control that,” Dankberg said, “but when any cell phone in the world, or smartwatch … within your borders can connect to a space system directly, that is not consistent with the self-interest of quite a few nations in the world.”

Small LEO satellites have been getting larger to improve their capabilities as launch economics improve, Dankberg noted.

He pointed to how SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites have increased from about 250 kilograms to the 2,000-kilogram range to add new capabilities, such as direct-to-smartphone services, into its second-generation broadband constellation.

Viasat believes “you do not need very large satellites to accomplish missions in space,” Dankberg said, and is focusing on improving payload integration to save space.

“We’re looking at standardized cubesat-type form factors that we think we can buy that will create a vibrant ecosystem,” he added, “to allow many new entrants into these into these systems.”

Viasat is still waiting on regulatory approvals from the United Kingdom and European to buy Inmarsat after announcing the deal in November 2021.

The statuary deadline for the U.K.’s competition watchdog to decide on the deal is March 30, Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss said in a recent investor note, and “then the last remaining hurdle would be the European Commission which could potentially elongate the timeline.”

Viasat, which recently completed the $2 billion sale of its tactical data communications business, reported $651 million in revenue from continuing operations in the three months to the end of December, up 4% year-on-year.

Adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, declined 15% to $139 million. 

The operator also disclosed an extra few weeks of delays for its debut next-generation ViaSat-3 satellite, designed to add significant amounts of capacity over the Americas, which is now slated for a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in the week of April 8.

The second ViaSat-3, covering Europe, Middle East, and Africa, is counting down to a September launch on one of United Launch Alliance’s last Atlas launches.