The 2019 Nominees for Satellite Technology of the Year

This marks the second 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, Intellian Technologies won for its v240MT Tri-Band antenna system.

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 six candidates were nominated by our readers and our editorial board earlier this year. This year’s group of technologies includes a hybrid satellite broadband extension, a miniaturized terminal, a geospatial data platform, a dedicated satellite constellation, and an Internet of Things (IoT) data transmission and an array of antennas. Like our Executive of the Year award, the Technology of the Award winner will be determined by a combination of votes collected by Via Satellite readers, the Via Satellite editorial board, and SATELLITE 2020 attendees.

Voting ends at noon on Tuesday, March 10. The winner will be announced at the SATELLITE 2020 Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, March 11 at noon.

Forsway — Forsway Xtend

One of the main challenges the satellite industry is working to solve is the digital divide, connecting populations who are unserved and underserved by terrestrial high speed internet solutions. Forsway has developed a hardware solution designed to expand terrestrial broadband networks.

In 2019, Forsway built a hybrid satellite broadband extension with the Forsway Xtend ecosystem solution, including the Forsway Xtend Hub. It is a cellular solution that combines the ubiquitous downlink coverage of satellites with the low cost and low latency of terrestrial technologies. Xtend taps existing infrastructures and eliminates the need for investments in additional expensive infrastructure in regions lacking sufficient broadband. The Xtend Hub benefits underserved regions while creating a new business model for operators and service providers to monetize unused bandwidth and provide services to untapped markets.

The Forsway Xtend package includes the Forsway Hub and customer premises equipment (Forsway Odin F-50 satellite router or Forsway Freya home interface to HD satellite TV). The Xtend Hub has three components — a Mimir Gateway operator terminal, an Encapsulator Modulator System (EMS), and a Network Management System (NMS) to manage the system and fleet of terminals. Forsway Xtend boosts downlink capacity in rural areas from less than 1 Mbps to more than 40 Mbps, using satellite when needed, while using less than 20% satellite capacity compared to Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) on average.

Forsway’s solution can be adapted to multiple deployment scenarios and technologies including 5G and emerging Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations. It can also provided as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).

Forsway has deployed Xtend Hubs in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, working with regional partners like Arabsat and PhilSat. Forsway Xtend has generated interest among Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) operators in the rural U.S., and the company is planning a large-scale trial during 2020 in one state in the Western U.S.

Get SAT — Nano SAT-H

In 2019, Get SAT completed and deployed the low-profile terminal, Nano SAT-H, calling it one of the world’s first on-the-move Ka-band manpacks. It is the company’s smallest complete miniaturized terminal. At only 3.5kg, it can replace a truckload worth of equipment. Get SAT says its weight and size make it ideal for ground forces in remote areas, and for Class III unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) requiring instantaneous and continuous comms in Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) situations.

The terminal provides direct high bandwidth communications between ground or aerial forces and headquarters, allowing for seamless, real-time video, audio and information flow. It includes an integrated Block Upconverter (BUC), Low Noise Block Downconverters (LNB), and an Antenna Control System (ACU). The terminal provides autonomous operation for transmission and reception of high bandwidth data-rates with any L-band satellite modem.

The terminals size allows for Class 3-5 UAVs and some Class 2 UAVs to utilize the latest satellite communication methods. With more space and less weight, more mission critical elements can be added to the UAV.

Get SAT has integrated the Nano SAT-H into a UAV as well as a manpack. The manpack version is currently in use by a non-U.S. government agency in the defense sector, and the UAV version is used by a U.S.-based integrator. In 2019, Get SAT received new contracts from special forces, government agencies, first responders and other groups, including Honeywell, OVZON, Inmarsat, SOCOM, NIC4 (SOCEUR), U.S. Department of Energy, and Hughes for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Orbital Insight — Orbital Insight GO

Orbital Insight was founded in 2013 to develop software to pull insight from geospatial data. That mission came to fruition in 2019 with the company’s release of Orbital Insight GO, which puts the power of geospatial analytics and data directly into customers’ hands. In the past, Orbital Insight created bespoke data feeds to customers’ questions such as: How much oil Saudi Arabia has stockpiled? Or, What is the level of traffic at Walmart? Now with GO, customers have a self-service platform that enables them to answer those questions for themselves.

The platform pulls data from multiple Earth Observation (EO) constellations — Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Automatic Identification System (AIS), GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, and connected car signals — into one platform. GO offers several Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to interpret the data and automatically generate insights such as pattern of life analysis, change detection, alerts, triggers, tipping and cueing, and more. The software allows monitoring over a customer’s desired period of time and location.

The platform can be used for a broad set of applications, such as supply chain monitoring, defense and intelligence, state and local economic development, real estate due diligence, and commodity tracking. Orbital Insight’s customers include Airbus, the U.S. Airforce’s AFWERX innovation center, RBC Capital Markets, Meyers Research, and Tokio Marine.

Satellogic — Dedicated Satellite Constellation

Satellogic is a vertically integrated geospatial analytics company that builds its own satellites, collects data and provides customers with the platform to analyze the data. In 2019, the company technically validated its satellite in orbit and introduced its Dedicated Satellite Constellation (DSC) program to the Asian market.

Satellogic owns every part of its analytics process, from proprietary-design satellites, to the teams interpreting the data. The company says vertical integration is the key to be able to deliver scalable, frequent, high-resolution insights at an affordable price. The company’s list price is $2 million per satellite, per year for an area of 1 million square km, claiming this brings an 80 times cost-efficiency advantage on a per- square km basis compared to traditional players, and almost a 50 times cost-efficiency advantage compared to its closest smallsat competitor.

It is a low-cost, high-performance alternative to buying or building high-resolution EO satellites, or to buying direct access to imagery from existing commercial operators. This model provides governments with the advantages of ownership minus technological risk and initial capital investments.

It signed its first contract in the third quarter of 2019 valued at more than $38 million, with data science company ABDAS to deliver access to a dedicated fleet of satellites for the Henan province of China. This partnership will provide the province with multispectral imagery for monthly remapping of sites.

The province plans to use the high-resolution geospatial insights to monitor agriculture and strategic interests. In 2019, the company also completed its Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) expansion and signed a multi-launch agreement to build its constellation over the next 24 months.

Lacuna Space — Transmission of a LoRaWAN Message over Satellite

Lacuna Space is a company developing small, low-cost, battery-powered sensors to power the Internet of Things (IoT). Its main technological achievement in 2019 was directly transmitting a LoRa Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) message over satellite. LoRa, owned by Semtech Corporation, is the IoT standard.

This low-power transmission used the same power levels as battery-powered devices on the ground, meaning that battery-powered sensor and satcom terminal can last for years in remote regions without needing to be recharged. Lacuna Space says that LoRa-to-satellite transmission has been experimented on by others in the past. But, Lacuna claims their work was the first time it was adopted so it can scale to a large number of sensors in the field of view. That was made possible by a collaboration with Semtech, which produced a high volume of low-cost radio chips to build into devices.

The use of low-cost terrestrial technology from a battery powered low-cost device takes IoT to a new price point. The company says this opens an opportunity for satellite communications to offer a service at comparable cost to terrestrial IoT and not at a premium. In addition, Lacuna Space uses open standards so users can freely develop their own low-cost ground terminals, and publishes its open source designs and software.

In 2019, Lacuna Space also launched its first small satellite for field trials. The 6U cubesat includes the company’s LoRa gateway payload, which was developed and built in-house. The gateway payload is highly sensitive receiver that detects terrestrial levels of battery powered signal in space. By July 2020, the company plans to have five payloads on orbit.

ThinKom — Multi-Beam Phased Array Gateway Solution

The goal of ThinKom Solutions is to replace large, expensive parabolic dish farms with its Multi-Beam Phased-Array Gateway solution. Described as an “array of arrays,” the solution concept is based on ThinKom’s phased-array antenna technology, which is currently in use on more than 1,400 commercial aircraft installations worldwide.

The antennas work together to simultaneously track multiple LEO, MEO, High-Earth Orbit (HEO) and GEO satellites with look angles between 5 degrees and 90 degrees in elevation and full 360-degree coverage in azimuth. The software-defined multi-beam system is designed to be reconfigurable in that a single array can support multiple links, modifying the number of beams and radiation properties dynamically to meet the link budget and throughput demands of the ever-changing number of satellites in view.

ThinKom believes that cubesats, nanosats, microsats, and other miniaturized satellites will require a new way of thinking when it comes to gateway antenna technology. Their answer is an “array of arrays” that has a visual footprint of less than 2 meters tall, and can occupy an area of less than a 7 meter diameter.

This size also makes it flexible for deployment in areas with limited real estate, such as rooftop locations. Unlike legacy systems, is not adversely affected by wind, snow, and ice loading, and does not require the same amount of space, and it requires less power than other electronically scanned arrays. ThinKom CTO Bill Milroy calls the phased array gateway solution an “entirely new paradigm” in antenna technology.

He says the company’s new gateway concept is inherently flexible and scalable with far lower installation and maintenance costs. The low power and built-in redundancy aims to provide greater reliability without routine maintenance, and individual units are hot-swappable in order to minimize or even eliminate downtime. VS

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