Tag Archive for: Satellite

Nothing great comes easily, and with the big promises of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) fleets, these constellations are no exception. Beyond a significant technological feat, these systems will need to achieve unprecedented cooperation between satellite operators if they want to realize truly global connectivity.


Ready, steady, LEO. The race to having satellites placed into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has begun, and many companies, both old and new, are already working on their constellations. These small satellite fleets are intended to answer calls for a variety of services, including the Internet of Things (IOT), Earth observation, and communications. In addition, there is also the waxing allure of meeting rising broadband demand. Just as all this casts a shadow over the apparent waning Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite orders, it seems that an ever-growing number of companies are also thinking about joining the smaller satellite, non-GEO fray.

While it can be agreed that LEO is currently in center stage and, at the same time, while it can be agreed that colossal fleets of small satellites have the potential (at least in theory) to shift the paradigm of satellite internet and communications, we can’t possibly know what is going to be realized. We’re left to ponder what the stars have in store for us until these constellations are launched into orbit.

Should these LEO promises be delivered, not only will users benefit immensely from global connectivity, but the satellite industry is potentially going to have a significant advantage in the telecommunications market.

Facing the Challenges and Winning over Telcos

Clever business plans, unprecedented cooperation, and technology are the crux of the mighty LEO manifestation. On the technology front, solving the issue of antennas is a critical component to the LEO solution. Without this, we will not be able to jump between satellites of different fleets, something that is needed in order to really deliver the promise of high bandwidth at high speeds.

“I really question if the LEO operators will be able to handle all the bandwidth requirements. Will they be able to provide such bandwidth, both at these fast speeds and in such volumes, all the time? With regard to any operator including GEO, we can talk about achievable high data rates, but when you really look into these services, does a user really get this speed guaranteed? In reality, there are issues of bandwidth limitations and service providers reducing the data rate, either when the customer has used so much bandwidth, or when there are so many more users on that satellite at that particular time,”.

The solution is to move between different constellations with a single terminal dependent on what kind of bandwidth is needed. This would allow the operator to deliver the promise of high data rates at high speeds all the time. Therefore, the issue of antennas and software-defined networks need to be solved. But it also means that cooperation between fleets and, therefore, between satellite operators needs to be achieved.

Getting the ground equipment in check, then winning over the cooperation between satellite operators and implementing a complementary business plan, a satellite would gain the upper hand with the telecom market. If the LEO operators came together, along with the ground antennas that are needed to share bandwidth between LEO, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and GEO —then how could the telcos not see this truly global coverage as being absolutely crucial to their future?

Cooperator, not Competitor?

So just how likely is it that LEO satellite operators will achieve this cooperation? As more and more LEO networks come online, won’t the competition increase? At first, this may seem like the logical outcome, but upon greater consideration, we find that not all LEO constellations are rivals. In the case of frequency, for example, it’s highly possible to have a Ku- or Ka-band satellite in LEO competing against a similar spectrum GEO-based broadband system, rather than another network in LEO. The more differences between these LEO systems, the less competition there is.

When looking at the LEO constellations of the bigger, well-known players, there are several ways that these systems are differentiated, explains Nathan de Ruiter, managing director at Euroconsult, referring to LeoSat, OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat, Iridium, and Eutelsat.

“All are quite different in terms of Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) profile, system promoters and partners, system design, and target markets. The most obvious differentiation can be observed in the target markets, partly driven by the system architecture. For example, LeoSat with inter-satellite links will address a high demand spot, and OneWeb offers its global coverage,” says de Ruiter.

Iridium and Eutelsat are both targeting low data rate communications for IOT or Machine to Machine (M2M) applications, while others are targeting broadband applications with overlapping and complimentary user segments, adds de Ruiter.

“For example, LeoSat targets high volume broadband markets for premium professional users, while OneWeb aims to provide ‘connectivity anywhere’ for all professional users and consumers,” he adds.

On the financial side, the satellite constellations will all need to demonstrate and validate market demand by signing pre-launch commitments with customers. The if-you-build-it-then-they-will-come philosophy will not get you to a financial close, says de Ruiter. And subsequent to financial close, he adds, operators will have to rapidly scale up commercial business to demonstrate financial returns and meet covenants.

Partnering in the face of risk may help overcome some hurdles, but we have additional reasons to be optimistic about LEO projects making it to fruition, adds de Ruiter. Firstly, there is the demonstrated capabilities and experience of incumbent satellite manufacturers needed to deliver reliable satellite systems. Then there is the experience and funding behind these GEO operators that are committing to LEO satellite constellations. Finally, it’s the interest and commitments from mobile network operators such as Bharti and Softbank. Engaging a mobile network operator as a distributor could become a key determinant in establishing market access and driving commercial success, explains de Ruiter, adding that there also reasons to be pessimistic though.

With significant challenges seen, the LEOs are at a historical moment. Will they get it right and change communications and connectivity as we know it? Let’s hope so!

Weighing Up the Big LEOs

Telesat, Eutelsat, Iridium, LeoSat, OneWeb, and SpaceX— they all have LEO-based projects, but where are they in their plans, what do they have going for them, and what sets them apart? We take a look at these constellations, their progress, and their prowess.

Telesat LEO: Following 2017’s approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a 117-satellite Ka-band constellation, Telesat placed one of two prototypes in orbit in January of 2018. Then, more recently in November, the FCC granted new regulatory approvals, allowing Telesat to expand its constellation, but in the V-band spectrum. The Canadian satellite operator has already awarded study contracts to Airbus Defence and Space and selected Thales Alenia Space and SSL to evaluate the constellation’s construction. According to the satellite operator, its business plan is based on around 292 satellites, however, its ambitions better suit the system’s capabilities of handling 512 satellites, more than double the number authorized by the FCC. With worldwide rights of 4GHz of Ka-band spectrum, Telesat is targeting the year 2022 to start its global service, which will provide high-speed broadband for maritime, aviation, remote enterprise and government, and cover cellular backhaul.

Eutelsat LEO: Eutelsat ordered its first LEO smallsat in March, which it described as a “first step” to targeting IOT. The satellite dubbed ELO, which stands for Eutelsat LEO for Objects will be launched in the first half of 2019. The satellite operator has chosen to use a Tyvak-supplied nanosatellite aimed at narrowband for this loan application because of the low bit rate connectivity required. Similarly, Iridium is also targeting low data rate communications for IOT or M2M applications. Dissimilar to the likes of Telesat, Eutelsat is taking a low-key entry into alternative orbits because its single satellite is intended to test the business case for LEO in IOT, not to offer a commercial service. Should the tests prove the technical capabilities and that the business model is viable, it is likely that a larger IOT-dedicated project, if not constellation, is on the cards, however, this has not been included in the company’s capital expenditure plans as of yet.

New verticals or sectors that Eutelsat could target in IOT include smart cities, mining, agriculture, and transportation together with its applications in security and predictive maintenance.

Iridium Next: The $3 billion upgraded Iridium Next fleet was completed on Dec. 30 by Iridium’s sole launch provider, SpaceX. The 75-satellite fleet comprises of 66 active satellites and nine in-orbit spares.

Iridium Next operates using L-band frequencies, offering robust signal strength well suited for safety communications. The LEO satellites are able to provide voice and data connections to users anywhere within its global coverage. The company serves users in maritime, aviation, land mobility, and government verticals. Similarly, to Eutelsat, Iridium is targeting low data rate communications for IOT or M2M applications.

LeoSatLeoSatis currently working with Thales Alenia Space for its LEO Ka-band constellation of up to 108 communications satellites. However, the satellite operator has received approval from the FCC for 78 Ka-band satellites so far. According to the company plans, the satellite operator expects to launch the constellation in 2020. It plans to have all its High Throughput Satellites (HTS) interconnected through laser links. This would create a space-based optical backbone, without the need for any terrestrial touchpoints, that works 1.5 times faster than terrestrial fiber. These inter-satellite links also mean that LeoSat is well suited to address a high demand spot. In September, the company secured commercial agreements valued at more than $1 billion. It is also working on the development of a ground system and is in a partnership with Phasor Solutions, a developer of Electronically-Steered Antenna (ESA) systems.

Once operational, the constellation will provide high-speed, secure communications and bandwidth. The company will target high volume broadband markets for premium professional users, serving energy, maritime, government and enterprise verticals.

OneWeb: Similarly, to LeoSat, OneWeb will seek to provide broadband for professional users and consumers, but differently, OneWeb offers global coverage rather than addressing a high demand spot. OneWeb is working to produce 900 satellites that will interlock with each other in order for the constellation’s footprint to cover the entire planet. Small, low-cost user terminals will connect with the satellites and emit 3G, LTE, 5G, and Wi-Fi to the surrounding areas. It is intended that the people living, working and studying in these areas will use this connection. By 2022, OneWeb aims to connect every unconnected school. By 2027, the company plans on bridging the digital divide. The service is also intended to include homes, connected cars, trains and planes, and cellular backhaul. The first 10 production satellites are scheduled for launch in 2019, following which OneWeb will begin providing broadband access in 2020.

SpaceX Starlink: The company describes itself as being in the “very early days” of developing its planned constellation, but it has already launched two prototypes in February 2018. A month later, the FCC approved its initial constellation of 4,425 satellites in Ku- and Ka-band frequencies. More recently, though, the FCC in November approved SpaceX proposed satellite constellation, authorizing an additional 7,518 satellites in what SpaceX calls Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO). According to the rules of the FCC, upon receiving authorization in March, SpaceX has six years to launch at least half of its constellation. Within nine years, the full constellation must be launched. SpaceX is planning to begin service with 800 satellites in 2020 or 2021.

The constellation is intended to provide broadband communications, which SpaceX has expressed as being in high demand in numerous parts of the world. The company’s goal is, therefore, to provide broadband connectivity to underserved areas of the globe, as well as to provide competitive services to urban areas.


As a spectrum manager in the commercial communications satellite industry, one issue that of daily concern is spectrum interference. With the advent of what I call new dawn for space and terrestrial communications industry, this issue is an increasing challenge as new technology allow the greater exploitation of the spectrum environment. However, with these exciting opportunities, there is a greater likelihood of unacceptable spectrum interference. Nonetheless, working together, we can minimize this risk into our commercial satellites and other space-borne and terrestrial communications technologies, thereby bringing high-quality communications services to the United States and globally.

The satellite industry is heading in this exciting time. First, the digital universe is growing faster than at any time before. For example, when we look at 2013, the digital universe represented by the stack of memory in tablets would only reach two-thirds of the way to the moon. In 2020, we expect that stack to grow to 6.6 times to the moon. Further, in 2015 we had less than 5 Exabyte of global mobile traffic and in 2020 we estimate there will we more than 30 Exabyte of global mobile traffic — and that growth is not expected to slow down — especially with the advent of the roll-out of the 5G global network of networks early next decade.

It is not surprising then that when you look at the space environment, the use of spectrum by the commercial satellite industry’s growth is astounding. First, we expect demand for broadband services provided by Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellite networks to increase exponentially with the greater demands for speed and capacity and greater need to bring services anywhere at any time. Today’s systems, including Hughes, are supporting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -defined broadband speeds of 25/3 Mbps and more, with speeds of 100 Mbps and more expected in the early part of the next decade. The commercial satellite broadband industry today supports millions of subscribers worldwide and has invested tens of billions of dollars in its networks. These investments and subs keep increasing and their communications must be protected.

On the horizon, we are also seeing the deployment of networks of thousands of Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) satellites that will bring advanced broadband and 5G services globally on a cost-effective basis, including to the polar regions and the oceans, which today have limited coverage. Other NGSO systems will provide a variety of services including weather monitoring, tracking, and the like. These systems are not just important for commercial services, but also are critical for other uses such as those of the U.S. military, national security, and public safety. And once again, the development of these systems is resulting in significant investment in infrastructure in the U.S. and globally. And because of these and other growing space demands, we have seen the development of a strong U.S. launch industry with new entrants such as SpaceX and Blue Origin and others on the horizons. In addition, we have been able to attract increasing satellite manufacturing capabilities, such as Airbus in Florida. As a satellite operator, I welcome these new players who bring increased competition into the satellite industry, as well as increased reliability and lower costs.

Each commercial satellite system will have its own individual demands for spectrum that are required to be met and are important for the United States and the world to meet needs for 5G communications. Of course, it is critical to ensure that these communications are protected from harmful interference.

When we look at the potential for harmful interference to commercial satellites, we must not limit our examination to looking up only –spaced based threats. An equally important area where we may face interference is from terrestrial technologies including 5G, as well as other non-terrestrial technologies, such as high-altitude platforms.

Now, the good news. We are starting with a very sound basis to protect commercial satellites from harmful interference. On the space side, between satellite systems, the International Telecommunications Union (an arm of the United Nations) has implemented an effective coordination process between satellite networks for spectrum (and also the use of the GEO). Under this process, satellite network operators engage in coordination to avoid harmful interference to one another and, because of this framework, are able to actively address interference concerns before launch and occurrences when they happen. Further, there are domestic and international rules that govern spectrum use that protect against the potential for harmful interference. These include the ITU Radio Regulations, which are updated every three to four 4 years at World Radiocommunication Conferences as well as domestic rules that countries, including the United States, have implemented that impose technical restrictions on operations to prevent unacceptable interference.

In addition, there is a fair amount of informal operator to operator communications to avoid harmful interference and address issues as they occur. Because of the need for all operators to avoid harmful interference, both the formal and informal approaches generally work well. The issue comes up if there are bad actors or folks who are simply uninformed about these processes; in this case, neither formal nor informal processes will work.

With the current focus on increasing awareness and need for a sustainable space environment, combined with increasing pressure on access to spectrum, the White House has announced several important policies that should advance interference protection. First, earlier this year, the President released Space Directive 3 (SD 3), which has the important goal of preventing unintentional Radio Frequency (RF) interference. In particular, SD3 recognizes that growing orbital congestion is increasing the risk to U.S. space assets from unintentional RF interference and that the United States should continue to improve policies, processes, and technologies for spectrum use (including allocations and licensing) to address these challenges and ensure appropriate spectrum use for current and future operations.

In addition, SD 3 tasks the U.S. government to verify consistency between policy and existing regulations regarding global access; investigate the advantages of addressing spectrum in conjunction with the development of STM systems, standards, and best practices; and promote flexible spectrum use; and investigate emerging technologies for potential use by space systems.

To this end, the Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation, in coordination with the Secretaries of State and Defense, the NASA administrator, and the director of national intelligence, and in consultation with the chairman of the FCC, are required coordinate to mitigate the risk of harmful interference and promptly address any harmful interference that may occur.

SD 3 has been complemented by the recent White House Spectrum Memo, which has a domestic focus and the goal of which is to increase spectrum access for all users, including on a shared basis, through the transparency of spectrum use and improved cooperation and collaboration between federal and non-federal spectrum stakeholders. In addition, it charges the government with creating flexible models for spectrum management; developing advanced technologies, innovative spectrum-utilization methods, and spectrum-sharing tools and techniques that increase spectrum access, efficiency, and effectiveness; building a secure, automated capability to facilitate assessments of spectrum use and expedite coordination of shared access among federal and non-federal spectrum stakeholders; and improving the global competitiveness of United States terrestrial and space-related industries and augment the mission capabilities of federal entities through spectrum policies, domestic regulations, and leadership in international forums.

So, how can we leverage these policies to improve the satellite industry’s protection from interference? Let’s start with the very basics. What does the commercial satellite industry need to be protected from harmful interference?

Our first building block is the one we rely on today. Use of the ITU coordination process, as well as the ITU radio regulations and domestic regulations which protect against interference. These regulations must be clear, transparent and not overly administratively burdensome as the White House policies recognize. However, SD 3 also recognizes that these processes must be improved. With an upcoming World Radio Conference this year important issues will be addressed on the large fleets of NGSO systems which are coming and how to better include them in the ITU coordination process. However, further action needs to be taken on a number of fronts, including for small satellites — especially as the operators may not be so sophisticated to understand existing processes.

In addition, domestic governments must address these challenges head-on. In the United States, the FCC has been actively addressing both issues and is in the process of revising its regimes to begin to address the very real issue of having new fleets of NGSOs and small satellites operating in the RF spectrum resource.

While work is underway both on international and domestic bases, I am concerned that we are not moving quickly enough. Unfortunately, there are certain administrative processes that must be followed to address these important spectrum issues. Accordingly, as discussed below, it is important for governments and the ITU to start to look at ways to enable flexibility in the appropriate regulations to enable innovation. In addition, informal processes can help fill the gap. This is an area that warrants further attention.

Additionally, international and domestic work to manage spectrum interference must continue to be complemented by an individual operator’s efforts at informal coordination. I am happy to report that several of our industry associations are actively looking at developing best practices to address these critical issues.

Moving on, the satellite industry also needs adequate access to spectrum with adequate interference protections contained in the regulatory regimes for all our uses — both gateways and user terminals; this means there are certain bands today where technology does not enable co-primary sharing between two ubiquitous services, such as 5G mobile terrestrial and satellite broadband to work on a non-interference basis. This means that interference from terrestrial systems and other non-terrestrial uses must be managed on both a domestic and international basis to ensure all services are able to operate free from unacceptable interference. This is a very real issue that is on-going at the WRC preparatory process. The terrestrial mobile industry is currently seeking 33 GHz of spectrum for 5G mobile terrestrial services, much of which is in bands already allocated to satellite communications and some of which is designated for satellite user terminal use Despite these existing satellite allocations and identifications, the wireless industry wants full and clear access to these bands — without any protections for the satellite, even though previous WRCs have recognized the need for spectrum for ubiquitous use of approximately four GHz of spectrum for satellite user terminals. This remains a critical issue for the industry and also for my company, as we are far along in the construction process of advanced broadband satellites in these bands. It would be unfortunate if the satellite industry is limited in the role it can play in the 5G network and in the future because of a lack of access to spectrum or access without required protections from interference.

Renditon of Qtum's blockchain satellite. Photo; Qtum Foundation.

SpaceChain, a community-based space platform, announces the successful test of its second blockchain node in space, launched into orbit on October 25, 2018, by a CZ-4B Y34 rocket from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre, Xinzhou, China.

The node is embedded with SpaceChain’s smart operating system, SpaceChain OS, and can perform blockchain-related functions on the Qtum blockchain such as running smart contracts and multi-signature transactions.

Since the launch on October 25, the team has run a number of connectivity tests to ensure the node’s full operational capability. During these tests, the node’s signal was detected and transaction data has been uploaded to the node to complete the signature and then downloaded via the ground station, and finally verified on the blockchain network.

“This multi-signature cold wallet service – an application developed by SpaceChain engineers to test the space node – shows proof of technology of being a potential cyber security solution for the blockchain industry,” said SpaceChain co-founder and chief technology officer Jeff Garzik. “SpaceChain deployed and tested the space-based multi-signature transaction which opens up brand new possibilities in space security models.”

The first blockchain node that SpaceChain launched into orbit on Feb 2, 2018, was equipped with a Raspberry Pi hardware board and blockchain software. It ran a full-node program on the Qtum blockchain and could process existing blockchain data. The node was offline and had limited functionality, but it was the first successful deployment of a Qtum blockchain node in low earth orbit.

“It often takes months and years to build the system and to launch hardware into space as there is a need to secure the launch opportunity, obtain permissions, get the frequency and ensure there is ground station support. We are proud to have launched two nodes in our first year of operations, bringing us one step closer to creating a network of blockchain-based satellites in space” said SpaceChain co-founder and chief executive officer Zee Zheng.

A panel at the 2018 Kratos Global Users Conference. Photo: Kratos

A panel at the 2018 Kratos Global Users Conference. Photo: Kratos

High Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems have brought unprecedented flexibility and bandwidth to the marketplace, but the new capability comes at a price: increased network complexity that will require innovation on the ground to manage effectively without breaking the bank.

HTS satellites, which have been deployed in increasing numbers in recent years, feature multiple spot beams that can be created, removed, or redirected at any time by commands from the ground, enabling highly efficient use and reuse of bandwidth. While this allows operators to respond quickly to shifting demand and better serve emerging markets such as mobility, it vastly complicates the job of network managers responsible for everything from satellite control and signal monitoring, to service tracking and customer billing.

Compounding the HTS challenge is the arrival of large constellations of satellites in lower orbits, which can complement traditional Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites, but have their own unique set of operating requirements. Some of the world’s major satellite operators are looking to more closely integrate the two types of systems in the years ahead.

At a recent user conference sponsored by Kratos, industry officials welcomed the full-scale arrival of HTS as a boon to the industry. But these officials also said that, based on experience to date, the ground has some catching up to do.

“If you’re having to manage bigger and more complex networks, what you can’t do is allow your operations costs to grow proportionally with the size of your networks,” said Stuart Daughtridge, vice president of advanced technology at Kratos. “The bottom line is you’ve got to be able to … manage more networks for less money than you had in the past.”

Operators are adapting by introducing more automation, virtualizing ground stations and shifting more functionality to cloud-based servers, according to Daughtridge and other speakers at the conference. One of the more basic challenges is allocating limited uplink resources between commands to the satellite and to its dynamic payload.

Tobias Nassif, general manager of the satellite control center Viasat, said uplink time devoted to satellite station-keeping and other maintenance is a time that cannot be used to reconfigure the payload in response to shifting demand. Operators thus face a tradeoff between necessary housekeeping and revenue generation, he said, suggesting that these tasks might require their own separate uplink channels.

During a panel discussion, officials representing satellite manufacturers, operators and ground system providers said a broader challenge is simply managing the sheer volume of tasks in the HTS environment.

“Automation is probably going to be one of the key elements you’re going to want to look at in a high throughput satellite,” said Tom Leisgang, technical director of ground systems mission engineering and operations at manufacturer SSL, a division of Maxar Technologies.

For SES, the introduction of HTS has led to a “huge, huge increase in scale” driven in part by increased interactions with customers, particularly those using the bandwidth for challenging applications such as aeronautical communications, said Steve Cooper, vice president of product line management and connect services at SES Networks.

SES has the added challenge of integrating a growing constellation of Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites, which require steerable ground-based antennas to track and communicate with each one as it passes from horizon to horizon. “That’s a whole lot of moving parts that need to be kept in sync, so that’s one of the bigger challenges we’re seeing,” Cooper said.

To save on infrastructure costs, companies also are, to different degrees, shifting data storage and other functions to cloud-based servers like Amazon Web Services, which are reliable, secure, and attractively priced. The panelists said they anticipate using a mix of public and private cloud-based services in the future, depending on the sensitivity of the application.

Meanwhile, the dynamic HTS signal environment — with spot beams being constantly redirected — complicates the task of mitigating interference, the panelists said. Whether inadvertent or deliberate, signal interference must be identified and geo-located before it can be addressed.

A growing HTS fleet has forced SES to double its network ground-based systems used to monitor satellite signal integrity, Cooper said. The recently launched SES 12 and upcoming SES 17 satellites will require even more signal-monitoring infrastructure, he added.

Bob Potter, vice president of signals and ground systems technology at Kratos, said the interference identification and geolocation issues can be addressed in part by technologies including the capability aboard some satellites to briefly but regularly sample incoming signals for integrity. This information can then be sent to a centralized location for detailed analysis, he said.

Emerging “big data” analytics technology also will come into play as operators seek to get the most out of their HTS satellites. Nassif said operators could use big data analytics to anticipate shifts and surges in demand, and react accordingly. “The more you know, the more you’re able to understand what situation you’re in, the better you can be proactive rather than reactive,” he said.