Kymeta and the New Space Race Part 1
There’s a New Space Race and it’s Not to Mars
For the past four years, space engineering and communications agencies, and the news covering their efforts, have been heavily focused on the race to Mars. Every space agency in the world—government funded, private, and university-based alike—including those still in their infancy have their sights set on putting the first human on the Red Planet. The compelling nature of this space race has overshadowed an intense race that’s heating up by the day, and is happening all around us: the race to launch and support the largest and most effective satellite communications systems in Earth’s orbit. This race is changing the face of satellite services support, and pushing ground link systems and antenna developers like Kymeta, to push and breakthrough the limits of their own technology to meet the demands of an ever-changing space and satellite communications skyscape.
State of the Satellite Industry: Jamming Earth’s Skies
As of January 31, 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported more than 1,300 active satellites orbiting Earth (this figure does not include inactive satellites), and to present, hundreds of additional satellites of varying sizes, destinations, timelines, and purposes have launched into orbit. Launches are occurring at such a rapid rate that databases worldwide are not updating instantaneously as they have done in the past. This race to launch as many satellites into orbit as possible is largely a result of growing demand for satellite communications in every sector.
The Satellite Industry Association’s 2017 “State of the Satellite Industry Report” released in July 2017 indicates that the industry shows no indication of slowing in growth. While the 2016 report indicates that satellite services revenues remained flat year-over-year, ground equipment revenues, increased by more than 7-percent in the same timeframe (the most growth of any satellite industry segment). Global mobile satellite services grew 5-percent in 2016; the demand in the United States represented less than 1-percent of this growth, indicating the need for broader global solutions to the demand for satellite communications services. Also noted in the report is the ever-increasing demand for satellite television services, which represent the lion’s share of services demands and revenues at 77-percent. Satellite broadband alone saw a 3-percent increase year-over-year in 2016 despite representing only 2-percent of the total demand, and it continues to grow.
The Satellite Launch Race is On and it’s Heated
The increased demand for satellite communications services isn’t limited to telecommunications. Research, government, and other consumer services are seeking increased bandwidth from the skies, putting pressure on space agencies worldwide to launch satellites at a blazing speed.
In February 2017, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) quickly joined the ranks of the world’s most prolific space agencies when it launched a payload of 104 satellites into space for both public and private companies. The agency followed up in May with the launch of a large communications satellite, and in June with a 3,139-kilogram GSAT-19. Additionally in June 2017, the ISRO carried 31 satellites from 15 countries into orbit. And India isn’t the only space agency getting in on the race. In July 2017, Russia’s Soyuz launched a payload of 73 satellites into orbit.
And while most of these satellites aren’t for use in mass telecommunications and connectivity, they all face the same problem, and it’s all happening down here on Earth.
Meanwhile, Back on the Ground…
While satellites are becoming more powerful, less expensive to build and launch, adopting increasing numbers of capabilities, and becoming smaller with every launch, they’re all still pointing at the same old thing: fixed satellite dishes and antennas. Whether these satellites are conducting television and other telecommunications services, or another critical function, they are ultimately only as useful to Earth as their ground links allow them to be. No matter how powerful or important a new satellite may be, just as important is where the signal is going: the antenna.
Read more about antennas, the missing link in satellite communications in Kymeta and the New Space Race (Part 2 of 3): New Satellites Can Throw a Signal, But Where is it Going to Land? Coming soon.