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Exploring the Future of Space-based IoT: Technologies and Trends in Space-based Internet-of-Things (IoST)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. The Internet of Things (IoT) is now globally proliferating to intelligently connect devices in order to meet increasing consumer demands as well as improve productivity. There are various smart devices, such as sensors, smartphones, and wearables, which collect necessary data from the devices which are further utilized to enhance customer’s experience. The internet of things technology helps in connecting various smart devices together to ease the operation and sharing of data amongst themselves.

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly transforming our world. From smart homes to self-driving cars, IoT is connecting devices and people in ways that were never before possible. But what about the devices that are located in remote or difficult-to-reach areas? How can we connect them to the IoT?

 

The current IoT leverages existing wired and wireless network infrastructures for communications and control. The dominant communications technologies for IoT have been short-range technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee. Cellular networks are another emerging connection technology and the number of IoT device connections to cellular networks is predicted to increase from 1.2 billion in 2019 up to 4.7 billion in 2030.

 

However, as IoT devices continue to proliferate in parallel with higher data rate communications and data services, these existing networks will become increasingly stressed and congested, particularly in remote and underserved regions of the world. For some harsh environments, such as deserts, forests, mountains, and oceans, the terrestrial network cannot be covered entirely. Additionally, in the face of natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., the terrestrial network is vulnerable. With its extensive coverage and strong system invulnerability, satellite communication systems can provide access services for IoT terminals in remote areas, realizing the “Internet of Everything” in the real sense of the world.

 

One solution is space-based IoT (IoST). IoST uses small satellites, called CubeSats, to provide connectivity to IoT devices. CubeSats are relatively inexpensive to build and launch, making them a cost-effective option for IoST.

 

The long-term success of IoT is tied to its pervasiveness, which is constrained by the limited coverage of terrestrial mobile broadband networks, which for commercial reasons cover areas with relatively high population densities. The true potential of IoT can only be realized when it is augmented with a ubiquitous connectivity platform capable of functioning even in the most remote of locations. It is possible to expand the area of ​​providing IoT services by using the satellite telecommunication systems resource, with specified and widespread application.

 

With the development of microsatellite technology, the cost of satellite development and deployment has decreased significantly. Low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations have begun to provide powerful support for IoT devices.  LEO satellites orbit between 400 and 1,000 miles above the earth’s surface. Data that is transmitted in LEO is sent from one satellite to another as the satellites generally move in and out of the range of the earth-bound transmitting stations. LEO is ideal for many communication applications because it takes much less energy to place the satellites into LEO and can use less powerful amplifiers for transmission.

 

Also, operating at low earth orbits, satellites will also significantly reduce network latencies, while introducing challenging tracking, synchronization and handoff issues. Advances in microwave/mm-wave phased array technology and advanced CMOS over the last several years will also be key enablers. The new networks should not be expected to replace terrestrial networks, but will integrate seamlessly with these networks to provide ubiquitous global connectivity.

 

The shaping of the future of space will involve new information communication technologies (ICT) involving today’s collection of technologies often termed as the Internet of Things (IoT), with connectivity technologies increasingly being combined with computing and large-scale data processing capabilities powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies. For instance, one of the key visions of the fifth/sixth generation (5G/6G) mobile networking technologies is to realise a Space, Air, Ground Integrated Network (SAGIN).

 

Internet of Space Things (IoST).

The nanosatellite era is set to further expand the IoT’s scope. Nanosatellites are loosely defined as any satellite weighing less than 10 kilograms. These satellites become IoT nodes with sensing, computation and communication capability. The devices work in swarms to collect information. Networks of nanosatellites aren’t just about acting as sensors – these devices can also provide global connectivity and transmission, important qualities for IoT-using businesses to have.  Therefore researchers are focussing on the development of a novel cyber-physical system spanning ground, air, and space, called the Internet of Space Things/CubeSats (IoST).

 

IoST expands the functionalities of traditional IoT, by not only providing an always-available satellite backhaul network, but also by contributing real-time satellite-captured information and, more importantly, performing integration of on the ground data and satellite information to enable new applications.

 

Some of the Use cases for IoST applications are Remote sensing, Monitoring of terrain and assets, Exploration of the deep space, Management of global transportation, Inter-CubeSat or ground-station data transmission and Disrupted or underserved areas have limited Internet access.

 

Leading companies around the globe have started seriously considering the concept of the Internet of Space (IoS). Both NASA and ESA have prepared plans to deploy satellite networks around Earth, spanning Mars and the Sun. The networks consist of microwave antenna arrays with miniaturized satellites and lasers pointing through free space. In the coming years, these technologies will provide the communication networks needed for connected robots and landers that will explore and possibly mine lunar and Martian surfaces.

 

The space-based network leverages software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) to control and manage a system of miniaturized satellites (CubeSats) and ground-based sensing devices. Deployed in the exosphere, an ad hoc network of CubeSats plays a central role in the system, serving not only as the network infrastructure but also as passive and active sensors. Nanosatellite development based on CubeSat standards guarantees ongoing and relatively inexpensive access to space, as well as a wide range of launch and space rocket options.

 

NASA has selected two photonics-based proposals to develop new technologies for small satellite applications, ultimately intended to improve science observations in deep space and to help the agency develop better models for predicting “space weather”. Funded under NASA’s Heliophysics Solar Terrestrial Probes program, which is managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, the two technologies involved are optical communications for CubeSats, and a giant solar sail for propulsion.

 

The first of the projects is actually looking to develop two different technologies: one of those is an optical communications link for small satellites and CubeSats that is less complex than current systems. Switching from RF to optical links in space offers the potential for a hundred-fold increase in deep-space data rates, while also reducing the burden on NASA’s existing Deep Space Network. “Such technology could help support future small satellite constellations that require high data rate communications systems,” stated the agency, which has appointed Antti Pulkkinen at Goddard as principal investigator.

 

Enabling technologies for Internet of Space Things/CubeSats (IoST).

Experts believe that IoT will be enabled when these satellites can communicate with each other wirelessly. This would allow future satellites to communicate with each other in a mesh network as well as reduce the weight and increase the payload capacity of traditional satellites. Technology already exists to provide internet access using satellites in geosynchronous orbit, but satellites in LEO offer more advantages as they are less expensive as well as enable lower latency.

 

Enabling keys to the new wave of companies are open standards and smaller hardware.  CubeSat technology to drive down the price of IoT monitoring, with some promising to push pricing down to as little as a few dollars per month per device. CubeSat standardisation opens up the possibility of using commercial electronic parts and the choice of numerous technology suppliers, thereby considerably cutting the costs of CubeSat engineering and development projects in comparison with other types of satellites.

 

CubeSat standards enable startups to quickly build and test satellites the size of a shoebox or smaller.  With smaller size comes lower drastically lower launch costs.  A typical 3U (30 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm) CubeSat designed to relay data can be built and put into orbit for $1 million or less. A pair of satellites in the proper orbits can provide global coverage with a 12 hour or less service interval to pickup data from a remote location.

 

The space-based Internet-of-Space network will represent the support framework for IoT with advances in millimeter-wave phased array technology and 5G system developments. Chip-scale phased array system-on-a-chips, which are applicable to low-cost silicon technologies with an adequate and equivalent isotropically radiated power, would enable links with transiting LEO satellites and act as technology enablers.

 

In Massive IoT applications terminals are deployed in large quantities and thus are under cost and resource constraints. Such constraints include size of the terminal, bill of materials, energy budget for battery-powered devices, permitted transmit power and antenna performance. Typically the amount of data transmitted by each terminal is small and transmissions occur infrequently. Thus, even if the spectral efficiency of the satellite link may be low, each terminal only consumes a small fraction of the available satellite bandwidth.

 

Their system is designed for flexibility with multi-band connectivity to enable a wide range of geostationary and near-geostationary endpoints, including terrestrial, below ground, and underwater locations. Security is built into the IoST architecture through the use of different security profiles and delievered as-a-service to protect the availablity, integrity, and privacy of all connected resources and information.

 

For most antennas, the beam width is indirectly proportional to the size of the antenna, i.e. a small footprint antenna has limited gain and directivity, thus produces a wide beam. This results in unwanted emissions toward adjacent satellites in the GEO arc and other LEO or HEO satellites or terrestrial receivers. Therefore, to mitigate such harmful interference into other systems, direct-to-satellite IoT terminals need to comply with defined power spectral density (PSD) masks. Depending on beam width and pointing accuracy, such PSD masks significantly limit the permitted transmit power, link efficiency, system capacity and the number of IoT terminals in the network.

 

Technologies that address the efficient use of spectrum and maximizing system capacity in such PSD-limited scenarios are required  considering terminal and antenna type and pointing accuracy. Furthermore, a waveform implementing such concepts has been developed and is available in simulation.

 

Advantages of IoST

There are a number of advantages to using CubeSats for IoST. First, CubeSats can provide global coverage. Second, CubeSats can be used to connect to IoT devices that are located in remote or difficult-to-reach areas. Third, CubeSats can be used to collect data from IoT devices in real time.

 

One of the primary advantages of IoST is its ability to provide global coverage. Traditional IoT networks rely on ground-based infrastructure, which can be limited in remote areas or in places with poor connectivity. With IoST, however, sensors and devices can be placed in orbit, providing coverage over the entire planet. This makes IoST ideal for applications such as environmental monitoring, agriculture, and logistics.

 

Another advantage of IoST is its ability to provide real-time data. Traditional IoT networks rely on periodic data uploads, which can result in delays in receiving data. IoST, on the other hand, can provide real-time data due to its ability to communicate directly with ground stations.

For deeper understanding of Space based IoT Networks please visit: Space-based IoT Networks: Implementations and Applications

Challenges

Despite the potential benefits of space-based Internet of Things (IoT) based on CubeSats (IoST), there are several challenges that need to be overcome.

Firstly, there are technical challenges related to the design and operation of CubeSats. CubeSats have limited power and storage capacity, which limits their ability to process and transmit large amounts of data. This makes it difficult to maintain continuous communication with ground stations and transmit data in real-time. Additionally, the harsh environment of space can cause technical failures, such as solar flares, radiation, and micrometeoroid impacts.

  • Power consumption: IoT devices are typically battery-powered, so they have limited power. This can be a challenge for IoST devices, which may need to transmit data over long distances.
  • Data storage: IoT devices also have limited data storage capacity. This can be a challenge for IoST devices, which may need to collect and store large amounts of data.
  • Interference: CubeSats are vulnerable to interference from other satellites and from the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Tracking: CubeSats can be difficult to track and control.
  • Security: IoT devices are often connected to the internet, which makes them vulnerable to security attacks. This is a major challenge for IoST, as it is important to protect the data that is being collected and transmitted by IoT devices.
  • Standardization: There is currently no single standard for IoST. This can make it difficult to develop and deploy IoST solutions.
  • Cost: IoST can be expensive to develop and deploy. This is a challenge for many organizations, especially small businesses.

Secondly, there are regulatory and policy challenges related to the use of space for commercial purposes. Currently, there is no clear legal framework governing the use of space-based IoT technologies, which creates uncertainty for businesses and investors. There are also concerns related to orbital debris and the potential impact of CubeSats on other satellites and spacecraft.

Thirdly, there are economic challenges related to the cost of developing and launching CubeSats. While CubeSats are relatively inexpensive compared to traditional satellites, the cost of developing and launching a CubeSat constellation can still be significant. Additionally, the market for space-based IoT services is still developing, which creates uncertainty around the potential return on investment for businesses.

Lastly, there are societal and ethical challenges related to the use of space-based IoT technologies. There are concerns about privacy and data security, as well as the potential impact of these technologies on national security and international relations.

Overall, while space-based IoT based on CubeSats offers many potential benefits, there are several challenges that must be overcome to fully realize its potential. Addressing these challenges will require collaboration between government, industry, and academic stakeholders to develop technical, regulatory, and economic solutions that ensure the safe and responsible use of space-based IoT technologies.

Despite the challenges, IoST is a promising technology with the potential to revolutionize the way we connect and interact with the world around us. As CubeSat technology continues to develop, IoST is likely to become more widespread and affordable.

 

Applications

IoST has the potential to revolutionize the way we connect and interact with the world around us. IoST can be used for environmental monitoring, agriculture, logistics, and even space exploration. For example, IoST can be used to monitor the health of astronauts in space or to track the movement of space debris.

By providing connectivity to IoT devices in remote or difficult-to-reach areas, IoST can enable new applications in a wide range of industries, including:

  • Agriculture: IoST can be used to monitor crops and livestock, and to collect data on soil conditions and weather patterns. This information can be used to improve crop yields and livestock productivity.
  • Transportation: IoST can be used to track the location of vehicles, and to monitor traffic conditions. This information can be used to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.
  • Healthcare: IoST can be used to monitor patients’ vital signs, and to track their medications. This information can be used to improve patient care and prevent medical emergencies.

 

Recent technologies and trends

Here are some of the technologies and trends that are driving the development of IoST:

  • The miniaturization of electronics: The miniaturization of electronics is making it possible to build smaller and more powerful CubeSats. This is making IoST more affordable and accessible.
  • The development of new communication technologies: New communication technologies, such as low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks, are being developed specifically for IoST. These technologies are designed to provide long-range, low-power connectivity to IoT devices.
  • The growth of the IoT market: The IoT market is growing rapidly, and this is creating a demand for new IoST solutions. As the IoT market continues to grow, IoST is likely to become more mainstream.

NASA demonstrates inter-CubeSat laser comms

NASA has successfully demonstrated inter-CubeSat laser communications by teaming up two CubeSats in an optical communications pointing experiment. The laser beam transmitted from one of the Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) spacecraft was recorded by a camera onboard the Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA) spacecraft. The demonstration shows that an optical crosslink between two CubeSats is feasible with proper pointing and alignment of the emitting and receiving spacecraft. This technology could enable constellations of small satellites to transfer high volume data between one another in low-Earth orbit or even in orbit around the Moon.

 

The inter-CubeSat laser comms demonstrated by NASA is important for IoST (Internet of Space Things) as it shows the potential for high-volume data transfer between small satellites in low-Earth orbit or even around the Moon. The flexibility and responsiveness of small spacecraft, such as CubeSats, make it possible to perform impromptu experiments like this, taking advantage of opportunities that were not previously envisioned for a particular mission. In addition, the use of optical communications can provide a more secure and efficient way of transmitting data compared to traditional radio-frequency (RF) communications. This technology could play a significant role in the development of IoST, where a vast network of interconnected space-based devices and sensors require reliable and high-speed communication.

Laser-pointer to help ‘CubeSats’ transmit data to Earth

Miniature satellites, known as CubeSats, have revolutionized satellite technology, allowing for cheap and efficient monitoring of large areas of Earth’s surface. However, due to power and size constraints, CubeSats struggle to efficiently transmit large amounts of data back to Earth. A new laser-pointing platform developed at MIT offers a solution to this problem.

The platform enables CubeSats to downlink data using fewer resources at significantly higher rates than previously possible. By downlinking thousands of high-resolution images with each flyby, CubeSats can transmit large volumes of data, such as images and videos, at high data rates.

The platform incorporates a small, off-the-shelf, steerable MEMS mirror, which faces a small laser and is angled to bounce off the mirror into space and down towards a ground receiver. The technique incorporates an additional laser wavelength, into the optical system. So instead of just the data beam going through, a second calibration beam of a different wavelength is sent through with it. Both beams bounce off the mirror, and the calibration beam passes through a “dichroic beam splitter,” a type of optical element that diverts a specific wavelength of light — in this case, the additional wavelength — away from the main beam.

The calibration technique determines how much the laser is misaligned from its ground station target and automatically corrects the mirror’s angle to precisely point the laser at its receiver. With this innovation, CubeSats are expected to be able to transmit detailed images down quickly, making the whole CubeSat approach more realistic.

Cahoy says that this achievement result means the technique can be easily tweaked so that it can precisely align even narrower laser beams than originally planned, which can in turn enable CubeSats to transmit large volumes of data, such as images and videos of vegetation, wildfires, ocean phytoplankton, and atmospheric gases, at high data rates.

 

Multibeam antennas

IoST (Internet of Space Things) applications require the use of high-gain antennas pointed towards the satellite of interest, and active antenna tracking and beam repointing is essential when the ground terminal or the satellite moves. Multibeam antennas are favored for IoST as they provide sufficient gain and beam steering capabilities while keeping the antenna size, number of radiating elements, and complexity of the excitation network low. These antennas are advantageous in simplifying the installation of fixed terminals operating on GEO networks and are useful for Massive IoT applications where the throughput requirements are low compared to HTS use cases. Overall, multibeam antennas play a critical role in enabling reliable and efficient communication for IoST applications.

 

Hybrid terrestrial-satellite systems

Hybrid terrestrial-satellite systems are becoming increasingly popular due to the unique advantages they offer in IoT applications. These systems require a deep understanding of both terrestrial IoT and satellite communication technologies to achieve optimal performance.

While it may seem logical to use the same technology and waveforms for both terrestrial and satellite communication, there are competing requirements and technical constraints that make a hybrid solution more favorable. For instance, low power and low-cost terrestrial communication in unlicensed bands below 1 GHz compete with the PSD constraint and highly regulated satellite communication at frequencies above 10 GHz.

A hybrid solution allows for optimization of both terrestrial and satellite communication to achieve the best performance possible. This approach takes into account the unique characteristics and requirements of both systems, resulting in a more robust and reliable communication infrastructure for critical IoT applications.

 

DVB-S2X for Critical IoT applications

DVB-S2X, the latest in the DVB-S series of satellite communication standards, has potential applications in IoST for critical IoT applications. These applications require dependable, low latency, and high-throughput connections, which are similar to those required for high-throughput satellite broadband. However, additional challenges such as low signal-to-noise (SNR) link budgets and time-variant channels need to be considered when selecting and tailoring the communication standard.

For IoT applications, DVB-S2X provides unique advantages by supporting very low SNR operation down to -10 dB and a low-overhead super-frame structure. The DVB-S2X super-frame format 4 provides a flexible extension with VL-SNR payload header tracking, allowing robust synchronization and signal decoding under variable channel conditions. This feature is particularly useful for IoST applications, as it enables reliable communication with small antennas or in LEO or HEO satellite infrastructure. Therefore, DVB-S2X is a promising communication standard for critical IoT applications and aggregation nodes in hybrid terrestrial-satellite systems.

 

First plant-powered IoT sensor sends signal to space

The first-ever plant-powered IoT sensor has successfully transmitted data to a satellite in space, developed by Plant-e and Lacuna Space. The device uses electrical energy harvested from living plants and bacteria to transmit LoRa messages about air humidity, soil moisture, temperature, cell voltage, and electrode potential straight to Lacuna’s satellite. The pilot service is supported by the ARTES program from the European Space Agency (ESA) and can be used for critical data gathering from agricultural land, rice fields, or other aquatic environments without the need for any external energy sources. This technology enables the creation of new opportunities for satellite-based IoT.

 

Plant-e, a start-up from Wageningen, the Netherlands, has developed a technology to harvest electrical energy from living plants and bacteria to generate carbon-negative electricity. The output generates enough energy to power LEDs and sensors in small-scale products

 

Lacuna, based in the UK and the Netherlands, is launching a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite system that will provide a global Internet-of-Things service. The service allows collecting data from sensors even in remote areas with little or no connectivity. At the moment Lacuna Space is offering a pilot service with one satellite in orbit, and three more satellites are awaiting launch during the next few months.

 

“At ESA we are very enthusiastic about this demonstration that combines biotechnology and space technology,” said Frank Zeppenfeldt who works on future satellite communication systems in ESA. “A number of new opportunities for satellite-based Internet-of-Things will be enabled by this.”

 

In conclusion, the future of Space-based IoT using CubeSats is a rapidly evolving field with great potential. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more innovative uses of IoST in the future. With the ability to provide global coverage and real-time data, IoST has the potential to transform industries and provide valuable insights for a variety of applications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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