Satellite technology

Trends and innovations
    Technological innovations in satellites enable the majority of advancements in the space industry as a whole. The most significant satellite trends include small satellites or smallsats, especially NanoSats, that drive the next generation of satellite capabilities. Further, the low manufacturing cost of smallsats is paving the way for the mass production of satellites. Satellite Internet of Things (IoT) is another major trend enabling unprecedented connectivity across industries and empowering 5G and upcoming 6G capabilities. Simultaneously, satellite manufacturers and operators are bringing technological innovations to ground stations as well as orbital services. Digitised payloads, propulsion systems, and technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) enable satellites to perform more complex functions autonomously. Thanks to increasing government and private investments, working on satellite manufacturing, operations, and services are laying the foundations for a new age of small intelligent satellites.

Impact of Satellite Technology Trends
    Innovating with small satellites to be deployed in low-earth orbit (LEO) constellations for greater internet connectivity and speed. Also meet this need by very-high throughput satellites both in LEO and GEO orbits. Satellite IoT enables improved cloud computing, IoT solutions, and backhaul for existing terrestrial systems. In-orbit technologies such as mission extension and service robotics are emerging satellite technology trends.
    Emerging satellite companies ensure that ground systems are technically advanced by using optical communications and advanced terminals. AI, for example, enables autonomous satellite operations and increases data processing power. Further, satellite bus designs now accommodate reconfigurable payloads, smart power systems, and onboard propulsion technologies. Satellite launch costs are also lowered by improvements in reusable rockets and using flexible launch sites. Lastly, additive manufacturing equips satellite to assemble large space structures both in space and on earth.

Small Satellites
    Equipped with smarter and compact subsystems, small satellites are replacing the need for large satellites and related infrastructure. Commercial satellite operators for connectivity services deploy constellations of smallsats in LEO to provide global coverage with low latency. For similar reasons, small satellites are increasingly positioned in LEO constellations for Earth observation (EO) and remote sensing to generate superior insights. Satellite advances this trend through mass production, rocket ridesharing with other missions, modular commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, and standardised satellite buses. Satellite operators and owners also minimise costs through vertical integration in satellite manufacturing. These advances are leading satellite manufacturers to experiment with new space technologies using smallsats as well as build smallsats for GEO orbits.
    Galaxy Space, mass produces small satellites with modular components and small structures. It has already sent 1000 small satellites, equipped with innovative communication payloads, like constellations in the 500-1000Km low earth orbit. These constellations provide 5G network coverage and broadband services to users across the globe. This also serves industries such as aviation, marine, automobile, and manufacturing and is used for emergency response and ecological protection.

Satellite IoT
    The demand for Satellite-enabled Internet of Things is growing steadily owing to the extensive coverage provided by satellites compared to the existing terrestrial infrastructure. Governments and private sector investment in satellite technology for connected systems and solutions are driving the technological advancements in satellite IoT. Commercial solutions involve deploying IoT sensors and devices for satellite-based, precise, and real-time asset tracking, monitoring, and remote surveillance in any part of the world. Advanced devices and sensor technologies in satellites also empower a new range of cloud and edge computing capabilities. Some of the biggest advances in satellite IoT come from its application in the military and defense. For example, terrestrial communication networks suffer coverage limitations at extreme locations and often depend on land and sea cables. Providing hybrid services using satellite IoT as backhaul to existing terrestrial networks, improving the overall infrastructure.
    Fleet Space uses the LoRaWAN protocol of the low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) and LEO satellite constellations to provide bi-directional industrial IoT solutions. Its 6U NanoSatellites with 3D printed antenna and digital beamforming for LPWAN improve satellite-to-ground station connectivity, thereby providing more throughput for remote industrial monitoring. Their integrated satellite and LoRaWAN gateway, The Portal, connects up to 1000 IoT sensors within a 15km range. The solution finds applications in the defense, utility, and mining sectors.

In-Orbit Services
    Satellite technology companies are solving two major challenges impacting satellite performance in space: servicing an orbiting satellite and decluttering the space in low earth orbit. The exponential rise in satellites launched has led satellite operators to employ space situational awareness (SSA) for detecting and cleaning space debris. Self-destruction and other deorbiting technologies introduced for decommissioning satellites are proving sustainable for the future of space. Another satellite technology trend to declutter space is by increasing the lifespan of existing satellites. Advancing in these services by using mission extension vehicles, also known as space tugs, to service or upgrade orbiting satellites by stacking with them. Other orbital services include orbital transfer vehicles, as well as payload and cargo delivery vehicles. Autonomous robotic technology further improves satellite maintenance efficiency by performing in-space satellite servicing and repairs.
    Obruta uses its proprietary service pods and systems to perform satellite servicing while in orbit. Satellites are either equipped with the Puck, Obruta’s 4-in-1 service interface or receive repairs through its service delivery pods. These technologies revive the satellite through refueling, repairing, recharging, relocating, deorbiting, data-transfer, or life extension. This empowers satellite operators to increase mission duration and mitigate critical mission failures.

Advanced Ground Systems
    Innovation in telemetry, tracking, and command-to-control satellites make next-generation ground systems a top satellite technology trend. Ground stations use radiofrequency (RF) communication terminals, including electronically steered and phased-array antennas, to track satellites with minimal human intervention. Similarly, the rise of satellite constellations requires modern inter-satellite links for coordinated constellation movement. For this, operating earth stations utilise smart RF and optical communication technologies for better in-orbit relays in upstream and downstream data transfer. In addition to existing stations, developing decentralised communications terminals for satellite connectivity in moving vehicles and remote locations. On the commercial end, ground stations are empowering software-defined satellites by enabling virtualised ground networks. These technologies enable satellites to autonomously reallocate, reconfigure, and handle massive bandwidth, as per demand, to support a growing number of end-users.
    Offering secure downstream satellite data handling by digitising ground stations. Instead of using the cloud, Arctic SpaceTech decentralises satellite data processing next to the existing network of ground stations. It, therefore, enables low latency, real-time data processing while reducing bandwidth and storage requirements on the network for ground station and satellite operators.

Artificial Intelligence
    The large volumes of data collected by satellites pose challenges in data handling, analysis, and timely resource management. AI manages the most complicated aspects of these challenges. Utilising machine learning (ML) algorithms enables the analysis of satellite data obtained from EO, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), infrastructure monitoring, and remote sensing. AI-facilitated data analysis on the cloud is paving the way for Ground-Station-as-a-Service solutions. Ground stations also use AI technology for groundbased SSA to command satellites for course correction or resource optimisation. In space, AI is used for real-time orbit prediction and satellite tracking for enhanced space traffic management. Further, in satellite subsystems, big data and analytics empower onboard sensors with autonomous data processing capabilities, before downstream data transfer. AI-enabled subsystems also make autonomous satellite maneuvers such as relative navigation, pre-emptive communications correction, spacecraft rendezvous, docking, and satellite constellation operation possible.
    Commoditises data from remote sensing satellites. The open innovation platform, SPARTA, combines IoT, economic, and weather datasets with data gathered from earth observation (EO) satellites. Using machine learning algorithms and big data analysis for this purpose. SPARTA then produces actionable insights for banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), agriculture, infrastructure, and climate sustainability for the locations in focus.

Advanced Payload Systems
    Payloads are the backbone of satellite missions, and their advancement is, therefore, a top satellite technology trend. Finding it profitable to use modular payloads instead of custom-made ones. Besides cost consideration, now use standardised payloads, readily available in the market, for enhancing the quality and capacity of satellites. Consequently, sophisticated COTS equipment such as high-resolution imaging and spectral sensors like Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), miniaturised transceivers, such as foldable antennas are finding a place in satellite payloads. Technological advances also enable making of autonomous satellite payloads that perform tasks such as frequency and power allocation to high-demand beams and important subsystems. Payloads are also made reconfigurable using installed software to perform custom functions other than the satellites’ original purpose. This way old satellites in orbit are repurposed for new missions rather than be decommissioned and added to space debris.
    Anywaves builds custom and off-the-shelf miniature antennas for satellite constellations. Their antennas are operational in telemetry, tracking, and command (TTC), Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), and as onboard payloads. These antennas serve from the range of S and X-band frequencies to all bands for GNSS. Anywaves’ COTS antennas are ready to be installed in satellites and enable time and cost-saving for satellite manufacturers and owners.

Spacecraft Propulsion
    High-capacity power and propulsion systems that enable satellites to travel deep into space and perform complex maneuvers are becoming a staple in the industry. As a result, smart innovations such as high-power solar arrays, miniaturisation of traditional fuel sources, like battery improvements, are incorporated readily in new satellites. Low-weight thrusters are restructured for optimised performance and similar improvements are observed in chemical propulsion for thrusters. There is also a shift towards incorporating sustainable propulsion systems onboard. Amongst the green propulsion technologies, using electric propulsion instead of conventional systems. Other novel green propulsion technologies include nuclear, solar, water, laser, and even Iodine-based propulsion. For example, electromagnetic tethering is a green propulsion technology that enables the movement of small satellites without the need for onboard fuel.
    Aliena manufactures miniaturised green propulsion systems for SmallSat mobility in space. Aliena’s plasma thrusters are built with a high power-to-thrust ratio, specifically designed for low-power small satellites. It empowers small satellite operators to reduce fuel consumption while continuing to perform orbital services, constellation phasing, maintenance, and deorbiting at its end-of-life.

Very High Throughput Satellites
    Demand for satellite mobile and broadband communications is surging and GEO satellite communication providers respond by increasing their strength and throughput capabilities. This implies that GEO satellites utilise advanced transponders and software-defined radios to transmit data at several hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes per second. Software-defined radio equips the satellites to cater to fluctuating demands by beam hopping, changing shape coverage, and specifically targeting high-capacity areas. Higher demands are catered to by increasing frequency in different frequency bands and using technologies like multi-spot beams. Satellite providers opt for Ku- and Ka-frequency bands for communications since these provide greater signal capacity and frequency reuse efficiency. With VHTS, connectivity over land, air, and sea for consumer, commercial, or military applications at unserved and underserved locations are now possible. LEO or Non-GEO constellations also leverage VHTS data supply with low latency to serve the consumer market with greater flexibility. By developing high-throughput communication payloads, Cesium Astro enables telecommunications satellite operators to serve this emerging market. Vireo, the multi-beam active phased array (APA) system is designed for HTP satellites with size, weight, payloads, and cost (SWaP-C) constraints. The system provides users with HTP capabilities as well as control over power consumption, beam hopping, beam-weight storage, and optimised constellation performance.

Flexible Launch Services
    Unlike a decade ago, the size and number of satellites that are launched in a particular orbital flight determine the requirement of launch vehicles engaged for the job. Therefore, flexible and on-demand launches are sought-after by satellite owners due to increasing smallsats and overall satellites launched into orbit. Air launch to orbit, launch using spacecraft, balloons, autonomous launch vehicles or drones are some flexible satellite launch techniques that are innovating in. Containerisation of smallsats for easy launch to LEO constellations is another innovation in ground-based launch services. The biggest innovation in ground launch systems, however, is the use of reusable rockets for positioning satellites in any orbit. Drastically lower launch costs prompt commercial satellites to be launched using reusable rockets. Also developing large, small, and micro launch vehicles catering to all types of satellites.
    Utilising its reusable launch vehicle, Sidereus Space provides flexible satellite launch solutions from anywhere in the world. The multi-purpose launch vehicle provides satellite owners with launch and orbital re-entry capabilities. It leverages miniaturised propulsion technology to provide SSTO for both LEO and sun-synchronous orbits (SSO) within a few weeks.

Additive Manufacturing
    High costs of producing satellites and their subsystems, suitable for the harsh space environment, are lowered by taking advantage of additive manufacturing techniques. Satellite buses, customised payloads, and even rocket engines in satellite launchers are now 3D printed by satellite manufacturers. Using 3D printing technology on a large scale to mass-produce satellites for LEO constellations. Digital twins of bespoke and complex satellite parts are created and 3D printed. This speeds up prototyping and testing of satellites and their parts, in turn, reducing the manufacturing lead time and costs.   Likewise, 3D printing small parts of large space structures on the ground and assembling them in space significantly reduces the complexity of space manufacturing. This saves the cargo volume and fuel required to put large structures in space. In-space additive manufacturing further helps in performing upgrade missions for satellites in orbit by replacing malfunctioned components with 3D printed parts.
    Isar Aerospace uses advanced additive manufacturing and carbon composite materials to manufacture rockets for launching satellites. Additive manufacturing empowers them to build high-performance metals with precision and provide flexibility and speed to its stakeholders. Its in-house manufactured Spectrum launch vehicle is already putting satellites in the SSO for up to 700 Kgs and in LEO for up to 1000 Kgs.