Nanosats to connect the globe

Monday, 10 December, 2018

Nanosats to connect the globe

Australian and foreign firms are racing to launch fleets of satellites that will provide global connectivity for the IoT age.

On the afternoon of 11 November 2018, an Electron launch vehicle, built by space industry start-up Rocket Lab, lifted off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. Aboard were seven CubeSats, including two owned by Fleet Space Technologies that will form the foundation of a global IoT communications constellation.

The two ‘Proxima’ satellites are intended to be the first of a fleet of small, low-cost satellites that will provide internet connectivity for millions of sensor devices based in remote locations.

Proxima I and II were designed and built by Fleet, an Australian company, and mark the first commercial tests of the firm’s software-defined radios, which will enable it to transmit data efficiently across both S-band and L-band frequencies in space.

The CubeSats will ultimately help form the beginning of a constellation of more than 100 nanosatellites that, together, will act as a dedicated IoT space network. Fleet’s larger Centauri satellites are set to be launched aboard other launch vehicles at later dates.

“To see our first commercial CubeSats launched is an incredibly important milestone for us as a business, and it sets us on the path to achieving our goal of connecting Australia, and the world, in ways like never before,” said Fleet Space Technologies’ Chief Executive, Flavia Tata Nardini.

The ACMA has licensed Fleet to perform satellite telemetry, tracking and command, and payload data reception across S-band and L-band frequencies. The launches of Proxima I and II also enable the company to test longwave and shortwave band frequencies.

When combined with Fleet’s ground terminal, the Portal, Fleet’s constellation will enable satellite connectivity in remote industries where cellular networks are not present.

Flavia Tata Nardini holding a model satellite, with a picture of star trails in the background

Fleet Space Technologies’ Chief Executive, Flavia Tata Nardini.

The Portal enables businesses to connect up to 1000 devices to private, secure LP-WANs anywhere around the world, at a fraction of the cost of traditional satellite systems. According to Fleet, unlike other IoT gateways, the Portal goes beyond simple data collection and uses embedded edge computing-based software to analyse and select key, targeted data for secure transmission over an array of satellite service options, including Fleet’s own satellites. The company says that this approach means the use of IoT in remote industries is now more achievable, enabling data-driven decisions that improve productivity and efficiency across a range of industries, including mining, logistics and agriculture.

Fleet was founded in South Australia in 2015 by Nardini and fellow aerospace engineers Dr Matthew Tetlow and Matt Pearson. The company is backed by Blackbird Ventures, Mike Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures, Horizon Partners and the South Australian Government.

Equatorial constellation

In related news, Sky and Space Global Ltd, a UK company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, has completed the critical design review (CDR) of its Pearls nanosatellite design and is now proceeding with assembly and integration.

The company aims to deploy a constellation of 200 nanosatellites over Earth’s equatorial belt. The network will provide around-the-clock affordable voice, data, instant messaging, M2M and IoT communications.

The first launch remains on track for 2019, with the entire constellation to be in orbit in 2020.

According to SAS, its services will bring to the equatorial region a wide range of life-saving and other services, including search and rescue, disaster management, emergency response, security alarms and recreational tracking. This is in addition to many other services including mobile phone applications; offshore communications; smart farming; interactive TV; aircraft, vessel and animal tracking; water and electric metering; and grid monitoring.

The CDR process assesses all technical components including schedule, overall design, altitude control performance and system budgets (mass, power and link) to ensure each part is of the highest quality and meets the required standard to progress to the construction phase.

Satellite broadband

Not to be outdone, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has received approval to expand its planned constellation of low- and mid-Earth orbit broadband communications satellites. In March 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave approval for SpaceX to “construct, deploy, and operate a constellation of 4425 non-geostationary orbit (‘NGSO’) satellites using Ku- and Ka-band spectrum”. Subsequently, the company applied for and was granted permission to change the proposed orbits of 1584 satellites of the satellites from an altitude of 1150 kilometres down to 550 kilometres.

Then, on 15 November 2018, SpaceX was granted approval by the FCC to increase the number of satellites by 7518, for a total of 11,943. The Commission also granted the company’s request to add the 37.5–42.0 GHz, and 47.2–50.2 GHz frequency bands to its previous authorisation.

“The company will utilise key elements from its experimental satellites, such as its sophisticated phased-array antennas and its advanced Hall-effect thrusters, as the foundation of a more efficient and cost-effective architecture that can rapidly accelerate deployment for the overall constellation while optimising space safety,” SpaceX said in a filing with the FCC. “This architecture will support commencement of service as soon as possible, allowing SpaceX to quickly employ valuable spectrum and orbital resources for meaningful services.”

At the same time, the FCC approved requests by Kepler Communications (140 satellites), Telesat Canada (117) and LeoSat (78) to “access the United States market to provide broadband services using satellite technology that holds promise to expand Internet access, particularly in remote and rural areas across the country”.

“With today’s actions, the FCC has granted 13 market access requests and satellite applications to nine companies for NGSO FSS constellations seeking authority to provide next-generation connectivity across the country in the past 18 months. The Commission continues to process additional requests,” an FCC statement said.

Commenting on the proposals, the FCC’s Chairman, Ajit Pai, said that “what they all have in common is the promise of variety in the burgeoning field of non-geostationary satellite services and innovative solutions to bridging the digital divide”.

“From providing high-speed broadband services in remote areas to offering global connectivity to the Internet of Things through ‘routers in space’ for data backhaul, I’m excited to see what services these proposed constellations have to offer. Our approach to these applications reflects this Commission’s fundamental approach: encourage the private sector to invest and innovate…” he added.

Images courtesy Fleet Space Technologies and Rocket Lab.

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