Satellite Technology of the Year Nominees for 2020

This marks the third year of Via Satellite’s Satellite Technology of the Year (STOTY) award, recognizing a single technology, innovation, or concept, as well as the organization responsible for its development and realization. Last year, ThinKom’s multi-beam phased array gateway solutions won the award.

Technologies were evaluated on their ability to meet significant market demand; create clear, significant cost-savings or technical efficiencies; make a profit; improve quality of life; disrupt the market; and demonstrate a scientific breakthrough. These five candidates were nominated by our readers and our editorial board. This year’s group of technologies includes a satellite terminal and network management system, in-orbit servicing demonstration, a mobility antenna, a space navigation technology, and a maritime emergency service.

Like our Executive of the Year award, the Technology of the Year award winner will be determined by a combination of votes from Via Satellite readers and the Via Satellite editorial board. Online voting begins on February 22 and ends at noon ET on March 31. The winner will be announced on April 5 during a digital awards ceremony hosted by SATELLITE 2021. All SATELLITE registrants can access the digital program by registering for SATELLITE 2021.

Smartellite Ku- and Ka-band terminal on a vehicle. hiSky

hiSky Smartellite Network

The hiSky Smartellite network comprises satellite terminals, hub base stations, mobile applications, Internet of Things (IoT)/Machine-to-Machine (M2M) interfaces, application servers and a cloud-based network management system running on Ka- and Ku-band from Geostationary (GEO) satellites. The entire system was designed in-house and built to serve the company’s growing commercial IoT and voice/data markets.

Smartellite spent three years in development before its release. This was the first product that hiSky designed as a service, which meant that the company had to adopt a whole new business model in order to support the roll out. Due to its small form factor and simple implementation, hiSky is now able to serve a wider range of customer types including: remote solo workers (safety communications on the move); smart agriculture (connecting sensors); and remote finance (through connecting ATMs and point-of-sale). Customers are able to buy Smartellite systems in volumes without high CapEx costs usually associated with complex satellite systems.

Since its release, hiSky has experienced the largest new end-user success with its asset tracking and telemetry service for the logistics sector, which is especially timely during a global pandemic. The Smartellite system has also brought hiSky sustained success in the fisheries market, allowing fleet managers to monitor the location, time at sea, and catch data of their assets.

MEV-1 MissionNorthrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman Mission Extension Vehicle-1

The Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) is widely recognized as the harbinger signaling the beginning of the age of in-orbit servicing.

The MEV project was nearly a decade in the making, originating back to a spacecraft concept proposed in 2010 by a joint venture between Northrop (formerly ATK and then Orbital ATK) and U.S. Space named ViviSat. The joint venture was dissolved in April 2016, but continued on as a solo-project at ATK and then Northrop Grumman, when it purchased ATK in 2018. The MEV-1 is based on the GeoStar-3 platform.

In February 2020, Northrop Grumman and its SpaceLogistics LLC subsidiary successfully docked two commercial satellites in orbit with the MEV-1, a historic first. The MEV-1 was docked to the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) spacecraft in order to provide life-extension services, which also marked the first time mission extension services have been offered to a satellite in Geostationary Orbit. MEV-1 is under contract to provide five years of life extension services to the IS-901 satellite before returning the spacecraft to a final decommissioning orbit.

The introduction of MEV-1 breaks down barriers to entry for both existing and new operators by offering services through “used” spacecraft and flexibility in fleet management, while presenting a key tool to tackle the growing challenge of space debris.

Kymeta u8 antenna mounted on a vehicle. Kymeta

Kymeta u8 Terminal

The Kymeta u8 electronically steered satellite antenna and terminal platform is a comprehensive connectivity solution that aims to enable trusted, secure communications on the go with a host of new innovative features. It is described as the only land-based solution of its kind that fully supports always-on broadband communications over both satellite and cellular while mobile – a product that has long been in demand in the mobile markets.

The u8 is the culmination of seven years of research and two years of field experience. Kymeta designed this second-generation terminal to be lightweight and low profile, mounting easily on vehicles and vessels. The company doubled the antenna’s gain from its previous model to enable full Ku-band coverage, and realize near-theoretical scan loss performance – all at a lower cost.

The terminal can be purchased as an end-to-end subscription combining the hardware and Kymeta Connect, a hybrid satellite-cellular connectivity service. The total solution is ideal for critical missions on-the-move, often taken on by first responders, government, and military agencies. These end-users require unique and powerful infrastructure to support their communications needs. Terrestrial communications networks, such as LTE, which rely on a fixed network of towers and radios, can become unreliable during a disaster.

Lockheed Martin's Natural Feature Tracking technology was used in the OSIRIS-REx mission.Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Natural Feature Tracking

Lockheed Martin’s Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) technology uses spacecraft on-board cameras and sophisticated algorithms to enable relative navigation, proximity operations and automated spacecraft rendezvous and docking maneuvers. NFT was invented by Kalle Anderson at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center (ATC). It was deployed for NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex in October 2020, enabling its successful asteroid sample collection maneuver.

NFT identifies natural features of manmade and natural vehicles and uses those to extract real-time accurate range and pose information that can be used for relative navigation, proximity operations, and automated rendezvous and docking. NFT also provides situational awareness enabling complex maneuvers such as the OSIRIS-REx sample collection, for which state-of-the-art technology, such as LIDAR, are not adequate.

The technology is also an enabler for on-orbit assembly and servicing, as well as a broad set of missions that require relative navigation, proximity operations and automated rendezvous and docking.

Iridium GMDSS System Iridium

Iridium Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)

Iridium GMDSS is a global, real-time maritime emergency service. It is regulated internationally and governed by the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention. GMDSS is designed to provide communication and coordination between people, vessels and even aircraft with potential rescuers and rescue authorities.

Before Iridium launched its GMDSS service, there was only one other company offering GMDSS to market. Iridium spent more than a decade developing its GMDSS service to be the first to cover 100 percent of the planet, and to utilize a terminal that is compatible with all three types of GMDSS services. This includes safety voice service as standard, which is particularly valuable to help Rescue Coordination Centers understand the full nature of the emergency as quickly as possible and dedicate the needed resources.

GMDSS specifies the types of equipment a vessel of at least 300 gross tonnage is required by law to have onboard. That means GMDSS must be installed on all big ships, ranging from very large yachts all the way up to massive cargo ships. Today, there are more than 60,000 SOLAS class vessels in the world that qualify for GMDSS. Iridium designed the GMDSS system as an affordable option for the hundreds of thousands of smaller vessels that may not be required to have GMDSS equipment onboard. VS

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