Tag Archive for: Satellite

The UK Space Agency is providing £1.2 million in funding to Horizon Technologies for the launch of a replacement satellite, Amber Phoenix, scheduled for mid-2024. Horizon Technologies lost its previous satellite, Amber IOD-3, when a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket failed during a launch attempt in January. Amber Phoenix is a 6U cubesat designed to scan radio frequencies from ships seeking to evade detection. AAC Clyde Space is manufacturing the satellite, while the launch provider has not yet been confirmed. Horizon Technologies, which specializes in maritime surveillance, will provide the remaining funds for the satellite program.

The UK government’s funding for this satellite replacement project highlights the growing importance of satellite technology for national security and maritime surveillance. In an era of increasing global connectivity and data exchange, monitoring radio frequencies from ships and other sources has become a crucial tool for governments and agencies seeking to safeguard their national interests.

This development also showcases the value of satellite technology and cubesats in particular for security and defense applications. These small, cost-effective satellites are gaining more recognition as they provide flexible and accessible solutions for various space missions. The focus on replacing a lost satellite with a new and improved version underscores the resilience of space technology, where failures are often viewed as opportunities to learn and innovate.

he challenges Horizon Technologies faced with its initial satellite launch plans highlight the complexities and uncertainties associated with space missions. Factors such as pandemic-related delays, launch provider issues, and other logistical challenges can significantly impact the timing of satellite projects. This is especially true for smaller companies and startups entering the space industry.

The grant from the UK Space Agency, in this case, has played a crucial role in allowing Horizon Technologies to overcome these hurdles and continue its expansion into space-based services. As space technologies become increasingly important for national security, surveillance, and other applications, such funding and support from government agencies can make a significant difference for private enterprises.

Horizon Technologies’ decision to replace the lost Amber IOD-3 satellite underscores the strategic importance of maintaining and enhancing space assets. These assets play a vital role in modern surveillance, telecommunications, and environmental monitoring, making it essential to have contingency plans and resources to address any potential setbacks.

Horizon Technologies’ ambitious plans for its Amber constellation demonstrate the increasing role of small satellites in addressing security and surveillance challenges. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Enhanced Maritime Security: The Amber constellation is designed to enhance maritime security by providing real-time radio frequency (RF) data. This can help detect illegal activities such as piracy, smuggling, and other threats to maritime security. The UK. Royal Navy’s involvement highlights the potential of space-based solutions in addressing security concerns in a broader context.
  2. Global Coverage and Rapid Data: With plans to deploy over 20 Amber payloads in low Earth orbit, Horizon aims to offer worldwide RF data with a latency of just 30 minutes. This near-real-time data can significantly improve the ability to respond to security threats and challenges in the maritime domain.
  3. Government and Commercial Opportunities: Horizon Technologies intends to market its space-based detection services to other governments and commercial customers. This highlights the commercial potential of satellite-based solutions for addressing security and surveillance needs.
  4. Synergy with Earth Observation and SAR Constellations: Integrating RF-tracking payloads into partner Earth observation and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) constellations is a strategic move. It allows for more comprehensive data collection by leveraging existing constellations to capture additional information in areas identified as interesting by RF payloads.
  5. Collaboration with Earth Observation and SAR Companies: Horizon Technologies is actively collaborating with Earth observation and SAR companies to integrate RF-tracking capabilities into their upcoming satellite launches. This collaborative approach expands the network and capabilities of the Amber constellation.

Overall, Horizon’s vision for the Amber constellation demonstrates the growing importance of small satellites and their potential to address a wide range of security and surveillance challenges. It also highlights the synergy between space-based solutions and existing Earth observation and SAR constellations, underscoring the importance of integrated data for comprehensive situational awareness.

The emerging market for satellite connectivity directly to devices, such as smartphones, has generated varying opinions on its growth potential:

  1. AST SpaceMobile’s Perspective: AST SpaceMobile, a company developing a satellite constellation for direct-to-device services, expressed optimism about the market’s rapid growth. The interest is being driven by consumers’ strong desire to remain connected. According to Scott Wisniewski, the executive vice president and chief strategy officer of AST SpaceMobile, customers are likely willing to pay for such connectivity, which might not require a substantial cost.
  2. Lynk Global’s Estimate: Lynk Global, another player in the market, expects the direct-to-device market to grow swiftly. Charles Miller, the CEO of Lynk Global, estimated that it would take less than five years for the market to reach $1 billion in annual revenues.

These estimates highlight a general sentiment that there is a growing demand for satellite connectivity directly to devices. The exact rate of growth and the time it takes to reach specific revenue milestones, however, remains a topic of debate within the industry.

There is a range of opinions regarding the timeline for the direct-to-device satellite market’s growth:

  1. Optimistic Outlook: AST SpaceMobile and Lynk Global are optimistic about the rapid growth of this market. They emphasize the critical differentiator is speed and expect it to become a significant opportunity more quickly.
  2. Cautious Approach: Iridium’s COO, Suzi McBride, offers a more cautious perspective based on Iridium’s experience of offering satellite phone service for over two decades. She believes that it will take a decade for the market to develop due to the time required for deploying the necessary infrastructure and ensuring proper service adoption.
  3. Middle Ground: Jassem Nasser, Chief Business Development Officer at Thuraya, anticipates the market could take 7-10 years to reach $1 billion in annual revenue. He suggests that the biggest opportunity lies in broadband data rather than voice or messaging services, which will require advanced technologies and significant capital investments.

This debate reflects the industry’s uncertainty about the exact pace of growth for direct-to-device satellite services. Some participants advocate rapid development, while others emphasize a more cautious, long-term approach to ensure success.

Regarding terminology, the industry is still grappling with what to call this market. While it is often referred to as “direct-to-device,” engineers commonly use the term “non-terrestrial networks (NTN).” The industry might need to establish a consensus on the appropriate nomenclature to describe this emerging sector.

The panel also touched on the issue of terminology for the direct-to-device satellite market:

  • Charles Miller, CEO of Lynk Global, believes that industry buzzwords like “direct-to-device” and “non-terrestrial networks” are too technical and don’t effectively communicate the capabilities of the technology to the public. He proposed the term “sat-to-phone” as a more descriptive alternative, emphasizing that the industry needs to speak the language of its customers, the billions of people with phones.
  • Suzi McBride, COO of Iridium, expressed a more consumer-focused view, stating that consumers care more about connectivity than the specific name of the technology.

This debate highlights the need for clear and consumer-friendly terminology to describe these emerging satellite services. While some advocate for more descriptive terminology like “sat-to-phone,” others believe that the technical jargon matters less to consumers than the practical benefits of connectivity.

MediaTek, a Taiwanese chipmaker and Inmarsat, a British satellite operator have announced an extended partnership aimed at jointly developing technologies that will enable more mass-market devices to connect directly to Inmarsat’s satellite network. This expanded collaboration will not only focus on joint technology innovation but also encompass the commercial deployment of satellite-enabled devices, potentially spanning smartphones, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and even vehicles.

The services to be offered through this partnership could include two-way text messaging, emergency communications, and device tracking and monitoring for regions where terrestrial network coverage is limited or unavailable. However, there is currently no specific deadline for when these satellite-enabled devices will be commercially deployed as a result of this partnership.

In the case of smartphones, for instance, the approach will involve working closely with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to integrate satellite connectivity into their offerings. This ensures that the integration aligns with the strategies and preferences of MNOs and OEMs, allowing them to provide enhanced services to their customers.

This collaboration builds upon a three-year partnership that had already yielded significant results. In February, the partnership led to the release of Android smartphones by ruggedized handset manufacturer Bullitt, which provided satellite-enabled text messaging services via service provider Skylo. With this expansion, Inmarsat and MediaTek aim to further innovate and expand the reach of satellite connectivity across various consumer and industrial applications.

The partnership between Inmarsat and MediaTek comes on the heels of other satellite operators venturing into the realm of enabling mass-market devices to connect directly to their networks. Iridium, for instance, announced Qualcomm as its partner to facilitate the connection of Android smartphones and other devices to its satellite constellation.

Furthermore, Apple introduced a satellite-enabled SOS service for the iPhone 14, using Globalstar’s network. It’s important to note that while Iridium and Globalstar operate in low Earth orbit (LEO), Inmarsat’s satellites are situated in geostationary orbit (GEO). This key distinction means that Inmarsat can provide two-way communications without the need for complex aiming of the device. However, it’s worth mentioning that Iridium and Globalstar enjoy an advantage in terms of latency since LEO satellites are much closer to Earth than GEO satellites.

A 5G phone call to an ordinary smartphone in a cellular dead zone was demonstrated by AST SpaceMobile which has achieved a significant milestone with its Blue Walker 3 test satellite. Here are the key points regarding this development:

  1. Successful 5G Phone Call: AST SpaceMobile’s Blue Walker 3 test satellite, which has been in orbit for a year, successfully relayed a 5G phone call to a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone in a cellular dead zone near Hana, Hawaii. The call connected an engineer in Hawaii with another engineer in Spain for nearly two minutes.
  2. Improved Download Speeds: In addition to the 5G phone call, AST SpaceMobile reported improved download speeds compared to previous tests. Download rates reached around 14 megabits per second, surpassing the 10 Mbps speeds recorded over 4G in June. This indicates progress in enhancing satellite-based connectivity.
  3. Launch Plans: AST SpaceMobile plans to launch its first five commercial satellites, known as Block 1 BlueBird, to low Earth orbit (LEO) early next year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites are expected to provide intermittent connectivity for initial device-monitoring services.
  4. Global 5G Service: The company is seeking funds to develop more powerful BlueBird satellites that would enable a global 5G service, extending connectivity beyond terrestrial cell towers. To achieve global coverage, AST SpaceMobile envisions deploying around 90 BlueBird satellites.
  5. Spectrum and Regulation: The 5G tests conducted by AST SpaceMobile used wireless spectrum from AT&T, and the company is in the process of seeking permission to lease terrestrial frequencies from AT&T on a commercial basis in the United States. The company, like other direct-to-device players, is also awaiting a regulatory framework from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to govern the emerging industry.

AST SpaceMobile‘s successful 5G phone call via satellite represents a significant step toward enabling global 5G connectivity, particularly in areas with limited terrestrial infrastructure. The company’s plans for launching additional satellites and regulatory developments will play a crucial role in realizing this vision of ubiquitous connectivity.

The direct-to-device market, which involves satellite-based communication services delivered directly to consumer devices, is seeing divergent opinions on its growth potential. Here are key points regarding this market and the differing views presented:

  1. Market Overview: The direct-to-device market involves providing satellite-based communication services directly to consumer devices, such as smartphones, without the need for specialized equipment like satellite phones. Companies like Lynk Global, AST SpaceMobile, Globalstar, and Iridium Communications are active players in this space.
  2. Lynk’s Optimistic Outlook: Charles Miller, the CEO of Lynk Global, suggested that the direct-to-device market could achieve annual revenues of $1 billion in less than five years. Lynk currently operates with a small constellation of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) spacecraft and focuses on services like text messaging and emergency alerts.
  3. Iridium’s Conservative View: Suzi McBride, the Chief Operating Officer of Iridium Communications, took a more cautious stance, estimating that it would “take a good 10 years” for the market to reach the $1 billion annual revenue milestone. Iridium has a long history of providing satellite communications to specialized handsets.
  4. Diverse Approaches: Various satellite operators are taking different approaches to tap into the direct-to-device market. Some are leveraging their existing infrastructure and spectrum, while others are planning large-scale satellite constellations designed specifically for this purpose.
  5. Market Dynamics: The growth of the direct-to-device market depends on several factors, including the development of user-friendly devices, regulatory frameworks, consumer adoption, and competition from terrestrial networks, especially in densely populated areas.

In summary, the direct-to-device satellite communication market is characterized by diverse strategies and differing views on its growth trajectory. While some are optimistic about rapid expansion, others take a more cautious and longer-term perspective. The market’s evolution will likely be influenced by a range of factors, including technological advancements, regulatory decisions, and competitive dynamics.