The first space age is considered to be started in 1957. The 20th-century space race between the USA and the USSR was primarily a military technological competition. Each strove to be the first to launch satellites or land on the Moon, while the rest of the world looked on. In that era, technological development was driven primarily by national security interests.
Today, space-based technologies play integral roles in our daily lives, GPS, banking, enhanced agriculture and optimized transportation all depend on satellite technology. Satellites enable global positioning systems (GPS), making physical maps largely obsolete. GPS technologies guide everything from Uber trips to autonomous cars. — Satellites facilitate nearly every financial transaction, from the swipe of a credit card to mobile banking applications.
Satellites allow for more accurate weather predictions, letting anyone know when to expect rain and giving cities the information to pretreat roads ahead of a snowstorm. Satellite data is improving the transparency of actions taken by nation-states. Satellites can give timely visibility into how events are unfolding. The satellite communications industry is worth $65 billion and supports many aspects of daily life, from videoconferencing and agriculture to emissions tracking and the interconnectedness of the Internet of Things (IoT).
For more information on New Space please visit: Beyond Earth: The Future of Space Exploration and Commercialization
While space is still a realm for national security and civil scientific experimentation, rapidly increasing investment from institutional investors, established companies, and ultra-high-net-worth individuals has expanded the range of use cases. Earth orbit is now open to commercial, scientific and, increasingly, military use by an ever-expanding roster of countries. The competition is hot for available slots, particularly in the desirable and economically promising low-Earth orbit (LEO) arena.
Over the past five to ten years, satellite cost performance has, in some instances, improved more than 1,000 times, and satellites produce and transport much more data than ever before. Technological advances in software, miniaturization, off-the-shelf components, and reusable launch vehicles have combined to reduce the cost of reaching and operating in space. This disruption is driving new use cases, capabilities, and users for satellite-based data.
Today, there are many space races.
Similarly, the number of objects in the solar system to receive visits from one probe or another continues to grow, with more missions planned from a more select—but still widening—group of participants. The most exclusive race, however, is the one to establish a persistent manned presence in orbit, on the moon and elsewhere in the solar system—a race in which both the U.S. (through the International Space Station) and China (through its new Tiangong Space Station) have gained significant ground.
The focus of these missions will be on sending “small payloads,” mainly autonomous instruments designed to locate, extract and process elements from the lunar surface. As well as the US, which is planning to launch its Commercial Lunar Payload Services mission – a collaboration between NASA and Astrobotic Technology, Russia, Japan, and India all plan to deliver robotic landers to the lunar surface during 2022.
The past decade has seen a resurgence of interest in space travel and the technological innovation driving it. Billionaire space tourists Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson made the headlines in 2021, while Elon Musk has his sights set on the colonization of Mars.
Today, there are 90 nations operating in space, and about 10,000 firms and 5,000 investors are involved in the space industry. Billionaires—including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson—at the helms of companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, among others, are launching their own rockets, spacecraft, and satellite constellations and disrupting a market long dominated by giant defense contractors and government agencies.
The world is undergoing a space renaissance—a period when seismic innovations in technology are powering new capabilities—including advances in the manufacture, propulsion, and launch of space systems.
Reusable launch systems for orbital vehicles are set to dramatically lower the cost of leaving Earth’s atmosphere, opening the doors to many exciting space initiatives which, while theoretically possible, are currently too expensive to be practical. It will also make routine space missions, such as launching satellites and resupplying the International Space Station, far more economical. SpaceX’s SN20 will attempt to launch the first successful orbital flight using a reusable rocket in early 2022, pending approval from the US FAA. SN20 is the most powerful rocket ever built, and is the craft that SpaceX hope will eventually take humans to Mars. Later in the year, Blue Origin will attempt to launch its reusable two-stage New Glenn rocket into low Earth orbit – this rocket is designed to be used up to 25 times and eventually will carry humans as well as cargo.
Over the past few years, a revolution has occurred in the space market. New companies are entering this market with plans for low earth orbit constellations offering worldwide internet, earth observation or private networks. They want the benefits of lower-cost Commercial Off The Shelf (COTs) components combined with a degree of radiation tolerance. 2021 was a record-breaking year in the aerospace industry, with over $10 billion invested from private-sector funding.
Space is becoming more dynamic than ever with mega-constellations, multi-orbit satellites, and software-defined payloads. The world’s demand for broadband connectivity has created a new generation of high-throughput satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO), and now low Earth orbit (LEO).
Traditionally, the satellite industry has relied on geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellites that take years to build and require very expensive launches to deliver them to orbit. Satellite networks using geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) are effective at providing stationary coverage to a specific area, however, Latency issues due to the distance of these orbits limit the ability of these satellites to be used for real-time communications like voice or live video transmissions.
New technology is driving a wave of innovations and evolution to smaller micro-sats deployed in low earth orbit (LEO) with reusable rockets delivering multiple satellites at a time with a single launch vehicle reducing deployment costs. The attention of researchers is recently shifting to satellite networks employing the low Earth orbit (LEO) or very LEO (VLEO) mega-satellite constellations.
Unlike GEO satellite networks, LEO or VLEO satellite networks can achieve higher data rates with much lower delays at the cost of deploying more dense satellites to attain global coverage performance. These smaller satellites deployed in mega-constellation arrangements can provide voice, video, imaging, and data to commercial and military clients with higher data rates and lower latency than legacy GEO deployments.
NewSpace drives the changing of the business models in the space with shorter lifetimes, high performance, and a substantially lower investment compared with traditional satellites. These changes have been disruptive, affecting design processes, design, and verification test requirements, and cost of test.
The pace of technological change has led some to question whether the ground segment can keep up and avoid becoming the bottleneck between innovations in space and terrestrial networks including 5G. This is particularly important given the technological shift from the world of Geostationary Orbit (GEO) to a Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) world, where satellite’s relative motion throw up additional challenges.
The New Space non-GEO constellations — in Low- or Medium-Earth orbit (LEO or MEO) — move across the sky, requiring multiple ground stations across the globe to stay in touch. “All these new constellations, these enormous numbers of new space vehicles, all need ground stations to service them, stay in contact, provide direct-to-Earth communications,” says John Heskett, the chief technology officer at Kongsberg Satellite Services ( KSAT).
And it’s not just the orbits. The new services that non-GEO constellations are getting into — like low latency communications, ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, or near real-time Earth Observation (EO) — also require globally dispersed ground stations, so that data can be downloaded in real-time.
In the new multi-orbit world, says Carl Novello, CTO of NXT Communications Corp. (NXTCOMM), an Atlanta, Georgia area-based startup, the biggest challenge on the ground will be flexibility. Traditionally satellite operators have been tightly vertically integrated, with terminals designed to work with a single constellation across a relatively narrow portion of the spectrum. With operators adopting a multi-orbit approach, that increasingly won’t cut it.
“The challenge is how do you move from being a product that is relatively fit for a single purpose to becoming the Swiss Army knife of antennas?” Novello asks. “One that will work in GEO use cases and LEO use cases and MEO use cases, with different requirements for frequency bands, uplink power, different regulatory requirements to meet, and so on.” In other words, concludes Novello, “How do we build a better antenna fit for this brave new world of satellite connectivity?”
But advancements in technology are shifting the ground system from purpose-built, proprietary hardware architectures to software-defined, cloud-centric, and extensible virtual platforms that support multiple satellites, payloads and orbits on demand. This is being enabled by a series of innovations in antenna technology, waveform processing and system design, quietly starting a “New Ground” revolution down on Earth, as well.
References and Resources also include: