In comparison to the satellites used decades ago, today, the satellites have shown the capabilities of data processing, storing, measuring, and monitoring Earth’s terrestrial, marine, and climatic environment. Because of their extraordinary features to make an observation on Earth, satellites have shown major adoption from government agencies and other such critical institutions; wherein data is closely monitored.
Additionally, government space agencies, commercial players, educational institutions, and research and development centers are more focused on developing advanced Earth observation satellites.
For instance, in April 2021, Planet Labs, in collaboration with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been planning to build hyperspectral constellation satellites to track and quantify various sources of carbon dioxide and methane.
Similarly, in March 2020, Nano Avionics won a contract from Sen for the development of five Earth observation nanosatellites to capture high-resolution images from space.
This has led to new business models wherein government agencies and commercial operators work together on operation missions of national importance, such as weather prediction, border surveillance, natural resources survey, and so on.
Recently, BIS Research hosted an extensive webinar on “Emerging Satellite Capabilities: Enabling Sustainability across Constellation Missions”. The agenda of this webinar was to highlight the various factors that are working as a catalyst in transforming the satellite industry globally and their impact on future projects involved in this industry.
The key speakers in the webinar were:
Nilopal Ojha – Nilopal is one of the lead research analysts within the Aerospace & Defense unit of BIS Research.
Amy Gracia – Amy is associated with the Aerospace & Defense domain at BIS Research as one of the lead research analysts.
Arun Kumar Sampathkumar – Arun is the principal analyst within the Aerospace & Defense unit of BIS Research.
Hirokazu Mori – Hirokazu Mori is the chief strategy officer (CSO) at WARPSPACE Inc., a leading telecommunication service provider for small satellites.
Significant quality discussion and knowledge sharing took place during the webinar. At the end of the session, the attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions to the panellists.
Following is a list of some of those questions along with the answers provided by the speakers.
Q. Which segment of the in-orbit services market will see commercial operations first?
Arun Kumar: As per BIS Research analysis, we are expecting that life extension services for satellites will be first adopted and operated. The life extension services will be seen catering to the geostationary equatorial orbit (GEO) satellite segment initially, as there is a need for this segment. For instance, the life-extension capability has been successfully demonstrated by Northrop Grumman’s subsidiary SpaceLogistics, wherein its Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) completed the historic first docking with Intelsat 901 (IS-901) satellite on February 25, 2020. The purpose of the mission is to provide life extension services to the satellite. Furthermore, in 2021, the company successfully launched the Mission Extension Vehicle-2 (MEV-2) to the Intelsat 10-02 (IS-10-02) commercial communications satellite to deliver life-extension services.
While life extension services will lead the way in focusing on GEO satellites, de-orbiting services will be the next subsegment emerging as many constellations are getting installed, and not all of them have on-board de-orbiting capability. The space debris removal requirement will also add to this development, but it will not maintain a steady recurring format as the other.
Q. What is the state of production at WARPSPACE Inc.? What is the production capacity of WARPSPACE Inc. (units per year)?
Hirokazu Mori: WARPSPACE Inc. develops optical terminals. However, the company has not announced its production capacity yet. The company aims to provide its optical terminals by next year (2023).
Currently, there are several companies manufacturing optical terminals. However, WARPSPACE Inc. is focused on providing optical communication services. WARPSPACE Inc. expects to partner with multiple downstream terminal manufacturers to deliver customized full solutions to their customers.
Q. What is the state of space situational awareness (SSA) services market?
Amy Gracia: The SSA services market is an emerging market with over 20 market participants, of which 10 are start-ups. While the capability at the technology level has been in existence for decades, it is now evolving into a wide range of commercial services accessible to the entire space industry, including commercial constellation operators. The need for enhanced space situational awareness is on the rise as the concerns around collision and interference are growing.
With the automation of mission operations, the need for precise predictive insights for space domain awareness is on the rise, and constellation operators are expected to subscribe to a variety of space situational awareness services.
According to the latest study by BIS Research, the global space situational awareness services market was valued at $125.2 million in 2021, which is expected to grow with a CAGR of 3.3% during the forecast period 2022-2032 and reach $172.7 million by 2032.
The growth in the global space situational awareness services market is expected to be driven by the increasing number of small satellite constellations in the low Earth orbit (LEO).
Q. What are the consequences of integrating optical communication capabilities in satellite constellation?
Nilopal: Constellations are expected to provide space-based data storage and distribution services, and this migration to large volume onboard data storage, processing, and distribution will require all the satellites in a constellation to be integrated into a mesh network. While RF-based communication will be suitable optical inter-satellite links will enable high throughput without imposing the risk of RF interference. Optical communication solutions can not only enable such inter-satellite-link-based mesh networks but also create additional means of satellite-to-ground communication architectures to support mission operations.
Q. How will the development of super-heavy lift launch vehicles impact the space tugs and dedicated launch services segment?
Arun Kumar: The development of super heavy-lift launch vehicles will not have that much impact on space tugs and other dedicated launch services. The reason being space tugs are designed to deliver payloads to the customer’s desired orbit/altitude/inclination and can be part of the super heavy-lift launch vehicles’ payload.
Additionally, these launch vehicles are designed and developed for the purpose of catering to both crewed and uncrewed missions for deep space explorations. Although several companies are working toward developing orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs)/space tugs for deep space missions, these will complement the super heavy-lift launch vehicle capabilities.
Q. Do you think there will be data format issues or data format conversion issues when shifting from conventional satellite comms to optical satellite comms?
Nilopal Ojha: In terms of data format, there will be no issues, as the data will not be touched, and the availability of several technologies for optical communication bitrate, overwrapping, and relaying the signal as a laser.
However, the ground segment will require decryption technologies for data transformation. Apart from this, there may be issues for edge computing, as they cannot do the analysis without touching the data.
Q. Do you see any challenges when providing optical terminal devices for the market?
Amy Gracia: One of the challenges is the interface, that is, where to mount the terminal. Depending on the satellite, the optical terminal will be mounted considering several parameters such as orbit and other factors.
The satellite design and manufacturing processes will evolve, resulting in new enhanced versions of existing satellite platforms, incorporating suitable optical communication payloads. Testing, evaluation, and integration of new hardware into standardized satellite platforms (and downstream terminals) will take time, but the needs of the satellite constellation operators will be a key driver in speeding up this evolution.
Q. How do you look at the competitive scenario in the future with several established companies coming in the picture (for instance, Sony has just entered the optical communication market)?
Hirokazu Mori: There is a need/demand to downlink more data. Although there is a demand for radio frequency (RF) currently for data downlink, however, the demand for data will increase significantly. Besides, the need for accessing satellites when they are not within the view of the designated ground stations will migrate the operators to optical communication architectures in addition to existing RF means for the same.
This is where WARPSPACE Inc. comes in. Around next year, firstly, demonstrations will be seen for the ground-to-LEO communication segment. In the next 2-3 years, WARPSPACE Inc. will be one of the first commercial companies to carry-out in-space demonstrations. As per WARPSPACE Inc., once the inter-satellite link optical communication commences, that is when the optical communication market will begin for enhanced secure communications.
Airbus, Sony, and other established companies have entered the optical communication market; however, they are more focused on the manufacturing aspect and not the services. So, for WARPSPACE Inc., this presents an opportunity wherein the pool of suppliers has increased. Apart from that, WARPSPACE Inc. has several intellectual properties (IPs) for architecture, and this will be useful for optical communication.
Watch the entire webinar here.