During the final day — Day Three — of Satellite Innovation 2020 Virtual, the first session was entitled Impacts of New Constellations.
Dr. Chris Boshuizen of DCVS – Data Collective — was the moderator for this session with panelists Marc Bell of PredaSAR Corporation, Cristi Damian of Advantech Wireless, John Serafini of HawkEye 360 and Erwin Hudson of Telesat.
The crux of this session was to look at emerging constellations that are being proposed that will offer broadband with much lower latency than GEO satellites. Analysts agree that the advent of these huge fleets of smallsats in non-geostationary orbits have the potential to change the paradigm for satellite communications and internet connectivity in particular.
From agriculture and mining to traffic observation, mapping and weather, advanced observation constellations are opening new opportunities to observe Earth in considerable detail. They also offer a range of solutions to meet the immediate needs of emergency responders, help in providing civil protection as well as aid in disaster recovery in harsh environments and remote locations.
Dr. Boshuizen opened by thanking the experienced individuals participating in the session. He said that there is certainly a ton of competition within the constellation environment and the questions were then posed to the panelists.
Marc Bell indicated that this influx is a result of a combination of reduced cost, a smaller available form factor and Wall Street embracing the constellation technology. He does not believe the LEO space is crowded and mentioned that LEO satellites don’t have a long lifetime and, five years from now, the landscape will look quite different. He related that the government needs to build standards and then allow the commercial companies to work with those requirements for effective solutions. When asked about recent bankruptcies, such as OneWeb and Vector Space, Marc said such would have made a bigger difference within the industry a year ago. He doesn’t believe these bankruptcies will have a chilling effect. He noted this shows you can’t overspend, such as on the OneWeb side, and Vector didn’t have a solid plan for entering the market. Rocket Lab has done a very good job and success is all about a good business plan and solid management. When discussing why space is so appealing, he noted that government is always talking about going to various planets — people like to dream and the space industry is turning dreams into reality — space is now within everyone’s grasp.
When discussing light reflectivity from satellites, Marc said that this is getting a lot of press and SpaceX is doing their best to mitigate it; however, he doesn’t think we’ll see a lot of light pollution. When it comes to satellite lifetimes, Marc indicated there will always be replacement costs to consider, and this is the cost of doing biz — it’s all about planning and should not be complicated. He believes that persistent, real time coverage of the planet, tracking oil slicks, wild fires and military conflicts, are all some of the capabilities that SATCOM can bring to the world. Imagine, he said, never losing a plane or ship, having 24 hour imaging through clouds as well as at night, all providing people with the raw data they need to thrive.
Erwin Hudson indicated he agreed that, from a telecom point of view, there’s a driving requirement for lower latency comms. However, enabling tech to manage communications effectively from LEO requires advanced networking, computer, control software, satellite, and manufacturing technology as well as affordable launch services are all are required. A number of these pieces have now come together — and that’s a big market motivator. There’s a lot of benefits with LEO for mobile backhaul, in particular — low cost, high capacity, available anywhere on Earth. His company is already demoing with partners on the viability of 5G backhaul via satellite and product can be delivered at price points not previously experienced.
Erwin continued by saying that a lot of effort goes into his firm’s satellites that possess four optical links, bi-direction data flow at 10 Gbps — they are actually optical mesh networks in the sky and add a lot of flexibility and robustness without reliance upon a single Earth station — LEO routes data to nearby Earth stations. He noted that link budgets are totally obsolete, almost irrelevant, and its more about capacity today. His company is building about 30 Earth stations which are an incredibly important part of the network. The network is totally integrated and the entire network operates as one, big, space cloud rather than different pieces trying to communicate with other pieces. Customers are demanding low latency communications. TCIP hates delays and, at some point, starts re-transmitting if network acknowledgements aren’t received. If 100 MB speed is needed, a truly responsive network is required and that can’t be done with GEO satellites with their latency of 1 second. To obtain really responsive networks, speed of under 150 ms is required.
Erwin mentioned his firm’s Constellation Network Operating System, which is the intelligence behind the network and is responsible to determine what is connecting to what and how data is routed. The technology is incredibly adaptive and offers intelligent computing capabilities. AI is the heart of the network. As far as satellite reflectivity is concerned, Erwin believes his firm’s satellites are minimizing reflective light. The higher up you are, the better. The physical shape of the angles of the satellites are designed so that light is reflected away from Earth. There are a lot of things that can be done to minimize satellite reflectivity.
His company expects their LEO constellation to assist customers in moves from GEO to LEO, but the GEO business is not going to go away. For example, broadcast is most effectively done from GEO, not LEO. Two-way communication that is not reliant on less than 100 MB speed will continue with GEO. As LEO becomes more mature, Erwin expects to see a lot of GEO capacity moving to LEO. From his company’s perspective, their focus is primarily on B2B. The cost of consumer grade LEO terminals is still a bit of a challenge. That cost will come down. Flat panel antennas are probably the biggest challenge in getting EO unit costs down. Erwin is a firm believer that the ability to provide comms, the ability to provide high speed internet in remote areas, the ability to connect cultures and nations, that is what makes the world a better and more peaceful place. If SATCOM is done correctly, that brings tremendous value to people and the world.
Cristi Damian added that the Arctic and Antarctic regions offer a great number of opportunities now and constellations provide the ability to provide communications from anywhere to anywhere. They are serious market disruptors. He added that ground structure technology for LEO in telemetry control and infrastructure is needed and discussed igh data rates and high mobilization requirements. He stated that even the link budgets that the firm has been using for many years are no longer useful. 5G is will be moving through the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) because, in order to be effective, AI technology is needed to determine the best way to move that traffic to and from various destinations and to also avoid data obstruction. He believes LEO will play a formidable role with 5G and will then prove its real value with 5G backhaul. There are two distinct models for LEO: backhaul and delivering data or going direct to the consumer.
When discussing 5G, he said that 5G doesn’t work without precision and timing and he intimated that the government may well create its own, private, 5G network. One reason for such might occur is that GPS is easily jammed today and networks are quite exposed. He believes we need to develop positioning and timing and become 5G players and LEO can open this market to commercial companies. Technology needs to be developed to enable this to occur, developments that were probably never initially considered. If 5G is embracing AI for proper traffic management, with LEO’s thousands of sats, he doesn’t see how they can operate without some form of advanced intelligence. The big question is… who is going to take care of AI? Traffic management will be crucial and must be seriously considered.
When talking about ground systems, Cristi said that with new constellations forthcoming, and much higher data rates, the ground segment needs a lot of innovation and there’s plenty of space for inclusion by companies who wish to develop solutions for this market segment. Care must be taken not to make the same mistakes that were made in the 90s. Going back in time, the cost of the technology was too expensive and bulky and difficult to use, plus the world was not ready to for the market. That’s different now. The cost for user terminals and so on must be brought down. He also noted satellites need Space Situational Awareness (SSA). Collision avoidance systems should be applied to satellites so they can detect debris and also avoid one another on-orbit. SSA is a hot topic with the USAF as well as many commercial companies. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) can be used to map out debris in real time and determine what and when satellites need to be moved to avoid impacts. He added from a Canadian perspective, the maritime traffic that’s heading into Arctic, for the most part, don’t know what they’re doing and LEO can solve some of those problems.
John Serafini noted that some of the new products out there that aren’t necessarily in the public interest. Most constellations that are going up are financed buy private capital. Even the best companies need financing, and B and C rounds are being raised to build constellations at a rapid rate. The government taking an aggressive position and it is not difficult for a startup company to find work with government. What is difficult is getting out of that initial startup stage. John noted that the government is doing a great job sprinkling contracts to small companies. He believes the government will pick the winners and then go long and deep with those companies and will help them scale their operations. John mentioned that its all about getting his firm’s data down to the ground, then processed and packaged to the customer. Whenever infrastructure can be built to support advanced capabilities, such will be great for his company.
John said there’s plenty of capital “out there”. He thinks there will be significant institutional investments into Earth Observation (EO) and SAR and RF. Some investment companies will hold off financing other tech until they see how the big candidates do with the capital they’ve already raised. He believes the best companies sell themselves as privileged, data acquisition firms. To investors, space is interesting because the successful companies are selling to the government, which is recession proof, and institutional investors want growth, want to fund viable technology and have a hedge when getting into space. Only so many assets can be deployed, so care is taken in selecting which firms to fund. The winner will be the company that brings together the different modalities to accommodate customers. John closed by saying bad things happen in dark domains — the more light and forecasting of human behavior and intent that can be obtained, such an offset human trafficking and hostilities, and SATCOM provides those capabilities now and even more so in the future.
Steve Jurvetson of Future Ventures offered the keynote address for Day 3 and he showed his office — virtually — of his office which he has turned into a space museum.
He said space is exciting and then delved into the history of SpaceX and Planet Labs, who are early leaders within this industry. He offered some general lessons about how these two companies succeeded and then close with a look into the future. What may seem to have been a fantasy regarding space in the past, well, they are now reality. Humankind is becoming a multi-planetary species. Students and software people entering the industry these days can take their big and bold dreams, their economic spirit and activity, and being driven by entrepreneurs (as usual) can change this and other worlds, as well.
The session entitled Cyber Security Concerns featured Tom Stroup of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) as the moderator with panel participants Dr. Gregory Falco of Orbital Security Space, Venky Anant of McKinsey-Silicon Valley, Karl Fuchs of iDirect Government, and David Mitlyng of SpeQtral.
Dr. Falco started off by stating that systems that have been up in space for some time but they are not protectable for the most part. He believes resilience and recovery are separate entities. Attacks will occur and systems will be under adversarial assault and companies should always be thinking about recovery all of the time. Can’t always have a backup on a desk and simply plug that data back into a satellite. Using cloud security technologies makes an attempted attack far more challenging. With the cloud, there is a better capability to swap out virtual machines. There is a higher point of touch and a move toward virtualized population of data. Stress testing is also crucial.
Gregory noted the potential for cloud services. The cloud extends access; however, with greater access comes greater responsibility. Significant dangers and threats are present and most in the industry do not have a good understanding of them yet. The tech community sidestepped the government market when great opportunity was present for solution presentations and they still don’t understood all off the cyber security risks that need addressing. When asked about anti-jam software defined transmitters, Dr. Falco said that probably such will eventually be implemented, but we’re not really sure how to do anti-jamming right now. There some good concepts that need exploring that will help to obtain a better understanding. The USAF is exploring these problems as well as academic researchers but it’s too early to know exactly what it will take to fix anti-jamming — redundancy needs to be solved first.
Dr. Falco indicated, when asked whether LEO sats are considered more secure, that the jury is still out. Geo based satellites haven’t had good vetting on the data yet, so lets have some more conversations about what’s going on under the hood.
Karl Fuchs, after stating his firm serves the US Government market, acknowledged that an adversary could win a battle as there a a large number of vulnerabilities in today’s systems that are not found in the terrestrial counterparts. Adversaries can take advantage of anomalies and this is a real vulnerability for the military. Because we are so focused on satellite, there must be thought given to other attack vectors that exist. Cyber security has to have at a much larger approach, not just concern about system hacking. Improvements must be continually made to cyber security as adversaries are becoming more and more adept and there are more and more jam threats. The value of improving cyber security is… the difference between life and death. Karl relayed that resiliency is absolutely a major concern for the US military. There are any number of threats out there from hackers who want to jam to a near peer adversary. Mitigations must be in place that allow end users to overcome such attacks. New technology must bring resiliency to the defense nets, especially to vercome jamming threats and to provide redundancy and resiliency when dealing with sophisticated rappers or near pear adversaries that could actually take out a satellite.
He reported that he has a different perspective as his company primarily serves the military. When you look at U.S. military satellites, they have closed networks in their own satellites and the nodes on their IP networks are highly secured. Karl said the cloud opens up unparalleled access to data and that will increase security issues. The US Government will have their own, private-type cloud. As far as anti-jam software defined transmitters, he indicated there are two broad categories. Signal excision anti-jam does not require any additional needed software or firmware to define receivers and those technologies are currently available with FPDA core. The second technology, spread signal, requires a lot of bandwidth and signal excision becomes more and more important. When it comes to LEO security, Karl indicated that, inherently, LEOs are a bit more secure than GEOs, and that has to do with ground coverage. LEO is a brand new world and we’ll be learning a lot more as time goes on. The biggest concern that is playing a bigger and bigger role, and one that has increased over a decade and half, is the reliance on GPS and so on. People are becoming more sophisticated, computational power increasing and it’s not that difficult for someone to disrupt a GPS signal. Already devices are receiving false GPS signals — the proper security must be behind the technology and that these signals cannot be jammed and ensure that the timing signals being received are actually coming from the GPS satellite.
David Mitlyng indicated that New Space is the reason for increasing cyber security solutions to overcome the numerous concerns. Jamming issues have been evident with commercial satellites for a long time and new satellite companies coming online are doing very little to secure their platforms. Satellites can be hijacked, valuable data accessed and intercepted from Earth Observation (EO) satellites, and these invasions are starting to become a far bigger concern. As far as recovery plans are concerned once a system has been assaulted, the commercial sector already has some of those plans and safeguards in place. Certainly, such are not as robust as they should be within the LEO community and a lot of work needs to be done. A hijacked LEO sat could be re-maneuvered, used as an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon, and that needs to be prevented.
David ventured that LEO collecting data is a bit more secure and offers more of a real time data downlink. Information is fresh and an adversary would have target ground stations. Data relay thru GEO is more secure, but more links area added and the design is well implemented.
Venky Anant said it’s a matter of when an attack will occur, not if. Hackers are sophisticated and there’s a lot of stuff out there that is obsolete and easily accessible. Sophistication of hackers and lot of stuff out there is obsolete and easily accessible. There is a limited amount of time to think about protection when the hack is going on — how does the communications team respond to the attack and what is the inline response. There are better protection measures around and proper planning is crucial. There is lots of great potential in the cloud, but it will take time to mature. As far as the viability of the cloud, there’s a lot of large financial companies taht have their systems in the cloud. Misconfigurations will always happen, but he is positive on the cloud and there is much opportunity there for development. Regarding LEO security, he said it’s too early to tell and the case has not been well documented or presented at this time and there’s so much happening right now so it is difficult to comment on this subject.
Satellite Innovation 2020 Virtual has now closed its doors and the amount of usable and informative subject-matter expertise that attendees garnered bordered on the amazing. For 732 registered attendees, the sessions were a treasure trove of insightful knowledge. We thank all who gave their time in presenting their know-how to attendees and to the attendees themselves for supporting the Satnews Publishers’ efforts in presenting and managing this event.
We hope to see all in March of 2021 for the SmallSat Symposium and then again next fall for the next iteration of Satellite Innovation.