From the Ground Up: The Role of Satellite
in a New Communications Landscape

The ability to convert hardware into software that is installed and managed remotely via third-party data centers will give satellite operators more flexibility over their networks and speed up how quickly they can respond to customer demands.
The management, or ”orchestration,” of the system is sometimes referred to as a System Resource Manager and it is at the heart of the management of a LEO constellation. The System Resource Manager coordinates orbit, satellite availability and capacity – a complex role. The approach taken to infrastructure design and management is key, and its development will allow hidden issues that surround the operation of any LEO constellation to be raised. However, more needs to be done within the industry to help manage key challenges such as spectrum efficiency and inter-satellite and inter-constellation RF interference. These are all critical areas of the multi-orbit puzzle that need to be solved in order to move forward. 

Standards are vital
in the move to the cloud

The satellite industry must embrace standards and cloud technology to ensure it can fully integrate into the 5G ecosystem. The telco sector is already accustomed to the development and adoption of standards. However, until recently, satellite systems have been standalone and proprietary. To integrate into the existing telco environment this has to change, and the industry will need to adopt standards already embraced by the telco sector such as 3GPP and MEF, and to also create new ones to enable interoperability of its own networks.

The establishment of groups such as DIFI (Digital Intermediate Frequency Interoperability), which is already testing its standard with ground equipment vendors and working with cloud service providers, is enabling the satellite industry to gradually move towards virtualization. This is a technology enabler that will allow cloud-based services to be deployed over satellite.

Signals from satellites today are traditionally connected to physical modems via analog cables that are not directly compatible with cloud-based networks. The analog signals currently used to connect modems, data centers, teleports, and terminals are complex and prone to error when it comes to digital signal processing. Migration to the cloud means that future satellite connectivity must be established from a cloud environment through the digital interface directly to antenna terminals.

The ability to convert hardware into software that is installed and managed remotely via third-party data centers will give satellite operators more flexibility over their networks and speed up how quickly they can respond to customer demands. Modems are a critical part of the ground segment. They are used in teleports and at customer sites to translate the satellite signals an antenna receives and convert them for transmission through other networks. By virtualizing the gateway, baseband, and modems that are usually located in the teleport, their functionality can be run on private or public cloud platforms. " A virtualized ground infrastructure will be agnostic from the application and will be modified depending on the use case of the user.

Flat Panel Antennas

Flat panel antennas have been hailed as the holy grail of multi-orbit constellations and the key to unlocking their potential. The development of flat panel antennas that can seamlessly switch between orbits and frequencies and beams is a highly complex challenge, and although antenna development is progressing, there’s still a long way to go, with issues of cost and performance causing the most headaches. In addition, customer expectations are high and can be unrealistic which naturally leads to disappointment with levels of service.

One of the main challenges for the antenna manufacturing community is obtaining clarification on the performance data that satellite operators require. Each operator is unique and has varying requirements. Therefore, if operators can agree on a minimum set of requirements and the data they need, as well as ideal testing methods, this will help to reduce complexity for manufacturers. SOMAP (Satellite Operators Minimum Antenna Performance Group) seeks to achieve a set of standards that manufacturers can operate by. However, without a dialogue with the satellite operators, this can’t happen. It’s critical that this sharing of information is facilitated so that standards can be developed.

Will a flat panel antenna eventually be a combination of a smart antenna with a degree of physical course elevation control? It remains to be seen.

Being prepared for interference

It is a fact that as more constellations are launched the risk of interference will increase by a yet unknown quantity. Spaceflight is undergoing revolutionary changes, and the net effect is that the sustainability of orbit, including spectrum and the radio


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