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Large growth in Microsatellites and Nanosatellites spurred by Space Internet, Navigation, Remote sensing and Military

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) set a new record in space mission achievements after it successfully launched 104 satellites in one go from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, on 15 Feb 2017.  The PSLV-C37/Cartosat2 Series satellite mission included the primary satellite (Cartosat-2) and 101 international nano satellites. It also launched two of its own nano satellites, INS-1A and INS-1B

According to report by Research and Markets, the global nano and microsatellite market to grow at  12.1% CAGR from 2016 to 2024, with the opportunity expected to be worth US$2.2 bn by the end of the forecast period. The demand for nanosatellites and microsatellites stems from various industry sectors, including military and defense, education and scientific research, commercial, and navigation and mapping.

Nanosatellite and microsatellite refer to miniaturized satellites in terms of size and weight, in the range of 1-10 Kg and 10-100 kg, respectively. These are the fastest growing segments in the satellite industry. ‘CubeSat’ is one of the most popular types of miniaturized satellites. One of the major advantages of nano and microsatellites is the low cost of building and operating these satellites.

Nanosatellites and microsatellites find application in scientific research, communication, navigation and mapping, power, reconnaissance, and others including Earth observation, biological experiments, and remote sensing. In 2015, communications held the dominant share in the market. A number of companies in the telecom sector are taking various initiatives to launch constellations of nanosatellites and microsatellites to offer their users faster internet services and additional bandwidth. Applications such as remote sensing and Earth observation are likely to gain momentum in the coming years.

The growing utilization of miniaturized satellites for military and defense applications has been one of the contributors to the growth of the market. Defense organizations have been launching communication nanosatellites and microsatellites to provide communication signals to soldiers stationed in remote locations or in dense forests. The military needs more data bandwidth and reliable communications infrastructure for its UAVs, which can be fulfilled using constellations of nano and microsatellites.

According to US army, there are many benefits of Smallsats in LEO: the first is low per-unit cost that enables affordable satellite constellations with minimal personnel and logistics tail and opportunity of frequent technology refresh.  The second is high survivability as they fly far above common threats and crowded airspace. The constellations also degrade gracefully and lost capability can be rapidly augmented and reconstituted. The ASAT attack is also difficult as microsatellites provide very very small target.  ASAT attack also becomes less economical with ASAT engagement cost ratio in our favor. The Responsiveness is also enhanced due to rapid design and built, can be tasked from theater and also better adapt to the threat.

Microsatellites could also be adapted as weapons. They can stealthily inspect and monitor a large satellite to determine its capabilities Microsatellites carrying hard-kill or soft-kill payloads can permanently or temporarily disable a large satellite. There are reports of plans to use microsatellite technology to develop and deploy long-duration orbital ASAT interceptors. The Sing Tao newspaper recently quoted Chinese sources as indicating that China is secretly developing a nanosatellite ASAT weapon called “parasitic satellite.” The sources claim this ASAT recently completed ground testing and that planning was underway to conduct testing in space.

The growth in small satellites is driven by miniaturization of electronics and sensors and the availability of high performance commercial off the shelf components, significantly reducing the cost of hardware development. The access-to-orbit and economy of these spacecraft is also improved through availability of secondary launch payload opportunities, especially for small satellites which conform to standardized form factors.


Satellite Internet

More than half of the world’s population does not have internet access today, and in some places it is still not cost effective to take the terrestrial and fibre optic network. To fill this gap many companies including One Web, Samsung and Facebook have proposed the concept of using satellite constellations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for communication to provide efficient global coverage. SpaceX has already applied to the Federal Communications Commission to begin testing of its low earth orbit (LEO) based satellite system.


One Web’s Affordable Satellite Access for Rural Areas

Qualcomm has joined the Virgin Group as investors in a startup company One Web that aims to deploy a low-orbit constellation of 648 microsatellites each weighing as little as 250 pounds to provide low-latency, high-speed internet access to rural areas through Wi-Fi, LTE, 3G or 2G connections. Additionally, the new satellite constellation will provide networks for global emergency and first responder access.

The satellites will each be able to deliver at least 8 gigabits per second of throughput. OneWeb has started to work on terminals that use antennas that combine mechanical steering and a phased-array antenna. They will provide internet access at 50 megabits per second. The company says it has developed Progressive Pitch technology in which satellites turn slightly so its low-orbit satellites won’t interfere with signals from existing Ku-band satellites in geostationary orbit.

The company aims to launch its first group in 2017 and have the system operating later that year or by 2018, said a company spokesman. Arianespace and Virgin Galactic will begin launching the spacecraft in 2018 and the satellites will be placed in orbit using electrical propulsion.


Samsung’s Space Internet

A new report from tech giant Samsung entitled Mobile Internet from the Heavens predicts that by 2028, 5 billion Internet users around the world will be collectively requiring at least 1 zettabyte per month data, and propose that a fleet of roughly 4,600 micro-satellites orbiting Earth could satisfy our requirements.

“Almost two-thirds of the humankind currently does not have access to the Internet, wired or wireless. We present a Space Internet proposal capable of providing Zetabyte/ month capacity which is equivalent to 200GB/month for 5 Billion users Worldwide. Our proposal is based on deploying thousands of low-cost micro-satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), each capable of providing Terabit/s data rates with signal latencies better than or equal to ground based systems.”


ESA CubeSat for global aircraft monitoring system

Since its launch six months ago, a satellite as small as of 10x10x30 cm, has been tracking aircraft in flight across the entire globe. The satellite can point its distinctive helical antenna to Earth and has a navigation receiver onboard to detect Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, or ADS-B, signals from aircraft. These signals are regularly broadcast from aircraft, giving flight information such as speed, position and altitude.

ESA launched its first technology-testing CubeSat in October 2015, on its six-month mission. GomX-3 was designed and built for ESA by Denmark’s Gomspace Company in only one year. GomX-3 also carries a miniaturised X-band transmitter, developed by Syrlinks in France that allows CubeSat to download data to X-band ground stations in the CNES network.

The nanosatellite precisely controls its orientation by spinning miniaturised ‘reaction wheels’ at varying speeds. This allows GomX-3 to points its antenna accurately towards satellites in geostationary orbit to detect radio signals for assessing their overall transmission efficiency.

ESA’s 2013-launched Proba-V first confirmed the feasibility of ADS-B detection from orbit, opening up the prospect of a global aircraft monitoring system incorporating remote regions not covered by ground-based air traffic control.

“This is the first of many ESA nanosatellite missions,” notes Roger Walker, overseeing ESA’s technology CubeSat effort. “Our aim is to test new technologies and techniques or fly promising payloads in a more rapid affordable way, with more CubeSat launches next year.”



Maritime Security

The Canadian Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat) mission aims to improve Canada’s space-based capabilities to detect ships and manage marine traffic. It is also testing a device that could change the way we monitor the health and safety of satellites.

Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology transmits important information on ships’ identity, heading and speed. Ships use AIS signals to detect other ships and avoid collisions at sea, and coastal authorities use them to enhance marine safety and monitor maritime traffic.

The placement of AIS technology on satellites in recent years has revolutionized how we monitor and manage marine safety by providing a more complete view of maritime traffic. One of the main objectives of M3MSat is to build on and improve Canada’s space-based AIS capabilities.

Part of M3MSat’s mission is to test an AIS antenna with advanced capabilities that promises higher performance for identification and conflict resolution of the signals. The compact antenna was designed by the University of Waterloo and is the first and only one of its kind.

Another objective of the mission, is to test a device, the Low Data Rate Service (LDRS), to ensure surveillance and data continuity when AIS receivers cannot provide real-time coverage. The LDRS receives transmissions collected by stations in remote areas such as the Arctic. Then it passes the information on to Canadian marine traffic control centres.


Disaster Monitoring Satellite Constellations

ESA’s Sentinel-2 mission is a land monitoring constellation of two satellites that provide high resolution optical imagery and provide continuity for the current SPOT and Landsat missions. The mission provides a global coverage of the Earth’s land surface every 10 days with one satellite and 5 days with 2 satellites, making the data of great use in on-going studies. The satellites are equipped with the state-of-the-art MSI (Multispectral Imager) instrument that offers high-resolution optical imagery.

The lower cost of platform development and the ability to be launched in larger numbers has also driving growth in small satellite constellations, having ability to perform many simultaneous and distributed measurements or observations. A key feature of multi-plane systems of these satellites is increased temporal resolution of collected data (e.g. shorter revisit times) over single plane. Furthermore the presence of multiple satellites in each orbital plane can facilitate a more graceful degradation of system performance on the occasion of individual satellite failures.

Some of the successful microsatellite-class constellation missions are Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) and Rapid Eye Earth observation missions and the ORBCOMM satellite communications system.

Two examples of larger multi-plane constellations of smaller satellites are the Planet Labs (Flock-1a:28satellites, Flock-1c:11satellites) and Skybox Imaging (24satellites).



Military use of Microsatellites : Disaggregated Architecture for more resilient space architectures

Senior leaders and policy makers in the US government have been calling for a disaggregated National Security Space architecture in response to the rapidly changing nature of the space domain. The Air Force Space Command (AFSC) defines disaggregation as: “The dispersion of space-based missions, functions or sensors across multiple systems spanning one or more orbital plane, platform, host or domain.”

“A disaggregated system design offers a means to avoid threats, ensure survivable capabilities despite hostile action, and develop the capacity to reconstitute, recover or operate through adverse events should robustness fail. Carefully pursued, disaggregation can lead to less costly and more resilient space architectures in the face of a rapidly evolving security environment.”

“The larger numbers of satellites complicates an adversary’s decision-making calculus and increases the uncertainty of outcomes. Smaller, lower-cost satellites, built and launched on frequent schedules could also make it much easier to reconstitute space capabilities, and introduce new technologies and capabilities. New countermeasures could also be added as the corresponding threat systems are developed and fielded.”


Operationally Responsive Space

ORS 5 (Operationally Responsive Space 5) or SensorSat is the fifth mission of the ORS program. This satellite will conduct space surveillance as a gap filler for the SBSS Block 10 satellite. A 80 – 110 kg ORS satellite to be launched 2017 is planned as a gap filler mission for the SBSS Block 10 mission, for which a full successor has not yet been funded and which is not expected to launch before 2021. It is planned to operate from a low inclination orbit of 500-700 km height to observe satellites in the geostationary belt.

The ORS Office is implementing a rapid innovation process using a Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) to facilitate rapid assembly, integration, and test (AI&T), deployment, and operations of space assets into the current space architecture in operationally relevant timelines. The most important requirement of the operationally responsive space (ORS) concept is a responsive launch capability.

On June 29, 2011, the Department of Defense’s Office of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) successfully launched the ORS-1 satellite as the first dedicated ISR asset providing critical imagery capability to US Central Command.

US Special Operations Command also has a constellation of smallsats on orbit. Launched on November 19, 2013, the Prometheus cubesats will allow special operation forces to transfer audio, video, and data files from man-portable, low-profile, remotely located field units to deployable ground station terminals using over-the-horizon satellite communications.


Army nanosatellites mission

Three U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command nanosatellites were on board an Atlas V rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in Oct 2015.

Each SNaP nanosatellie consists of three approximately 10 centimeter cubes stacked for a length a little more than 30 centimeters and a weight of 5.5 kilograms. Each nanosatellite has four deployable solar panels and four deployable RF antennas.

The mission objectives for the nanosatellites are to successfully demonstrate beyond-line-of-sight voice and data relay, and data exfiltration of unattended ground sensors. Other supporting technologies such as encryption and propulsion will also be demonstrated.

The nanosatellites are part of the USASMDC/ARSTRAT Nanosatellite Program (SNaP), a Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration

The SNaP program is part of a continuing evolution of Army nanosatellite capabilities that started with the first SMDC-ONE nanosatellite launch in December 2010, followed by the launch of additional SMDC-ONE nanosatellites in September 2012 and December 2013.


US Army’s SMDC Program

In many remote areas where Soldiers operate, Army radio over-the-horizon communication from the field to higher headquarters like the brigade is nonexistent. SMDC-ONE was a technology demonstration that showed nanosatellites in low Earth orbit could be used for beyond-line-of-sight communications and data exfiltration. The ONE stands for Orbital Nanosatellite Effect.

Army SMDC focus is on demonstrating the utility of nanosatellites and microsatellites for the warfighter.
SNaP – SMDC Nanosatellite was launched in August 2015 consisting of 5kg mass cube satellite, $500K each, 5 times the data rate of SMDC-One, 3 Axis Stabilization and Propulsion. “This is a Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration that will focus on voice and data communications beyond line of sight and improved access to high value information.”

“Nanosatellites in low-Earth orbit are traveling approximately 17,000 mph and are about the size of a football which makes them very survivable,” Thomas E. Webber, director, SMDC Technical Center Space and Strategic Systems Directorate said. “Providing the ability for our warfighter to communicate in an environment where traditional SATCOM is unavailable can literally be the difference between life and death.”

Another difference from previous satellites is that this is the first cubesat launch with propulsion capability and SMDC’s first with deployable solar arrays for battery charging. “The benefit of propulsion is to prove we can accomplish the technological challenge of having propulsion capability in a small package and to allow us to maintain proper satellite spacing within the constellation to maximize contact availability,” said Jeff Stewart, technical manager, Space Superiority Division, USASMDC/ARSTRAT. “The benefit of deployable solar arrays is to maximize power generation. On previous satellites the solar panels were attached to the sides of the satellite. At any one time, a maximum of only two panels would be pointed at the sun. With deployable arrays, we can orient all four toward the sun.”

“SNaP is designed for UHF communication with existing Army and some coalition radios,” Webber said. “The advantage low-Earth orbit provides is the fact that satellites are so much closer to the Earth, which allows much lower signal levels to be received and processed.”

The Army is also developing tactically controlled imagery satellites like Kestrel Eye, which will provide soldiers with improved battle space awareness. These small (40 lbs) satellites can perform tactical imaging achieving 1.5 GSD from 450 km and 1.7 from 600 km; can be tasked by forward forces to take images of designated points, can take individual or strip images (5.8 km x 3.8 km frames), returns imagery to user within seconds, can Roll ±30° (swath width ≈300 miles), Max roll rate ≈3°/sec in Roll, 1.2°/sec in Pitch. A constellation (5 planes, 8 SC/plane) can provide high persistence coverage of broad latitudinal swath.


DARPA’s call for Intersatellite Microsatellite links

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded a contract to speed development of technologies that could improve communications amongst its growing fleet of very small satellites. Under the two-year, $5 million contract, LGS Innovations of Herndon, Virginia, will prototype a lightweight, low-power optical communication terminal system that will enable light-based communications between micro-satellites in low-earth orbit.

The desire for rapid revisit rates or persistence from low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites is also driving the development of large constellations of small satellites, potentially with ~100-400 satellites. In addition to performing their core sensing mission, such satellites also have the potential to provide inter-satellite data relay, providing a highly survivable mesh of nodes capable of relaying data before downlink to ground stations.

Many applications of these satellites will benefit from jam-resistant, high-data-rate, low-latency communications between satellites, whether for cooperative sensing applications or for data relay back to ground stations. Since ground stations may be unavailable in many locations, relaying data between satellites to reach one with a connection to a ground station is an attractive option when low data latency is needed.

DARPA had solicited proposals to develop and demonstrate lightweight, low-power, and low-cost inter-satellite communications links (ISCLs) suitable for use on a wide range of small LEO satellites. Specifically, this program seeks to develop ISCLs with high communication data rates (>1 Mbps) while having a per-link average weight of less than 2 pounds and an orbit-average power dissipation of less than 3 watts. Both optical and radio frequency (RF) links will be considered.


DARPA’s Launch on Demand

DARPA soon will begin testing of its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA), new satellite launch vehicle concept designed by Phantom Works Advanced Space Exploration that would lead to more affordable and responsive space access compared to current military and U.S. commercial launch operations.

The 24-foot (7.3-meter) ALASA vehicle is designed to attach under an F-15E aircraft. Once the airplane reaches approximately 40,000 feet, it would release the ALASA vehicle. The vehicle would then fire its engines and launch into low-Earth orbit to deploy one or more microsatellites weighing up to a total of 100 pounds (45 kilograms). Because the vehicle can avoid the dense air near earth, smaller rocket can deploy satellites into space. It is aimed to provide launch at demand at 24 hours’ notice and reducing the costs to US$1 million per launch.


 The USAF Scientific Advisory Board’s (SAB) Microsatellite Mission Applications (MMA)

Study was chartered to review the potential mission utility of satellites with weight less than 300 kilograms (i.e., microsats). Satellite design approaches considered the ability of microsats to achieve mission utility by delivering: (1) complete mission capability, (2) disaggregated mission requirements, (3) augmentation of current capabilities, (4) fractionation of satellite functions, or (5) reconstitution of capability.

The Study was motivated by the rapidly changing strategic setting of space as a result of evolving threats, diminishing budgets, increasing space activity, increasing technology miniaturization, and emerging launch options.

The Study found that microsatellites have significant near-term (2-5 years) mission capability. Specific findings include : (1) microsats can address all Category A weather requirements, (2) microsats can address some critical space situational awareness (SSA) requirements, (3) other potential near- and mid-term microsat missions exist in space-to-surface intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and position, navigation, and timing (PNT), (4) potential far-term microsat missions exist in missile warning, PNT, and communications.

The report recommended “Initiate Science and Technology (S&T) Investments to Enable Far-Term Employment of Microsats”. S&T investments by the Air Force should address both hardware (i.e., infrared focal plane arrays, cryocoolers, radio frequency amplifiers, on-board digital processing, etc.) and processes (open/modular architectures, constellations, rapid design/prototype manufacture, automation and autonomy, etc.). Advances in these areas will reduce the size, weight, and power requirements of microsat payloads and help optimize design, performance, cost, and constellation size to best meet Air Force Requirements


Market Growth

 The demand for nanosatellites and microsatellites has reached an all-time high level owing to increasing pace of earth observation, space research, and communication. As it is a more feasible option compared to large satellites and also of lower expenditure, nanosatellites and microsatellites are preferred more for scientific research and in the military and defense sector other than various commercial purposes which are resulting in an overall growth in the nanosatellites and microsatellites market.

The global nanosatellites and microsatellites market can be segmented into its solution, mass, band, application, end-user, and geography. On the basis of the solution, the global market is divided into hardware, software and data processing, services such as professional and engineering services and launch services.

On the basis of the band, the global market gets divided into X-band, K-band, and Ka-band. Based on application, the market is classified into communication, earth observation and remote sensing, scientific research, biological experiment, technology demonstration and verification, academic training, reconnaissance and mapping, and navigation.

On the basis of end-user, the segregation is seen into government, civil, commercial, defense, energy and infrastructure, energy and utilities and maritime and transportation. Diversification of the global nanosatellites and microsatellites market on the basis of the region is seen as North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa and Latin America.

Largest market share in the nanosatellites and microsatellites market is seen in North America especially in the U.S. and Canada. Many major companies are keen on expanding their operations in the U.S. to capitalize on the increasing demand. Other regions following the growth in North America are Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East and Africa.

The U.K., Germany, France, Spain, and Italy are the countries contributing towards the market share in Europe. Countries in Asia Pacific include Japan, China, India and Indonesia that contribute towards the global market growth. In the Middle East and Africa, the countries involved in the nanosatellites and microsatellites market are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. Brazil provides its ample share in the nanosatellites and microsatellites market in Latin America


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