WorldVu Proposes Global LEO Broadband

According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk is working with WorldVu Satellites which proposes to deliver Internet access across the globe. A network of 700 satellites in Low Earth Orbit would use the Ku band (12/14 GHz) to deliver broadband to end users. Industry officials estimate that it would cost $1 billion or more to develop the project.

Musk is working with Greg Wyler, a former Google executive and satellite-industry veteran. Wyler founded WorldVu Satellites which controls a large block of radio spectrum in the Ku band.

WorldVu hopes to bring the cost of manufacturing the satellites to under $1 million, with each satellite weighing about 250 pounds. The current WorldVu design has been granted radio spectrum rights by international regulators, to beam some 2 gigahertz of Ku-band (12/14 GHz) using nongeostationary satellites at between 800 and 950 kilometers in altitude.

The WorldVu satellite constellation would be 10 times the size of the current Iridium fleet. It is expected to require up to US$3 billion in capital by the time the full constellation becomes operational in 2019–2020. SpaceX, which has launched a dozen of its Falcon 9 rockets in the past five years, would likely launch the satellites.

O3b Networks, a previous satellite Internet startup founded by Mr. Wyler, has faced technical problems with the first four satellites it launched, which likely will shorten their lifespans. Today, satellites in the O3b constellation each weigh about 700 kg (1543 lbs), and were designed, tested and integrated by Thales Alenia Space. O3b serves large areas on either side of the equator with a constellation of eight satellites and is planning to launch four more by the end of the year. O3b is using Ka-band frequencies that were abandoned by the now-defunct Teledesic venture

Teledesic was the most ambitious of the early LEO broadband constellation proposals. Originally in 1994, 840 active satellites were planned, then 288 active satellites in 1997 after a Boeing-led redesign and before the merge with Motorola’s Celestri. Later it was reduced to a proposed 12 satelites in a Medium Orbit (as Craig McCaw’s ICO). Teledesic planned 21 near-polar orbital planes of 40 active satellites with 4 in-orbit spares per plane at an altitude of 700km. Each Teledesic satellite was originally planned to have eight intersatellite links, in the 60GHz band. Ka-band frequencies were allocated to Teledesic at the 1995 World Radio Conference.

Alcatel announced its SkyBridge constellation in February 1997. Unlike Teledsic, SkyBridge did not propose to use intersatellite links. Instead, its satellites were planned to act as in-orbit ‘bent-pipe’ transponders, in the Ku-band.

The WorldVu concept is similar to the defunct SkyBridge satellite constellation, and is an attempt to use the same spectrum. Before it disappeared, SkyBridge battled with existing satellite fleet operators about whether dozens of SkyBridge satellites in low orbit would interfere with the standard telecommunications satellite fleets in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator, notes SpaceNews.

Perhaps active beamforming antennas like Kymet’s flat antenna and improved frequency inteference rejection will bring LEO broadband satellites back from the dead. With WorldVu, Google may be adding another player in satellite space in addition to their SkyBox Imaging platform.

Third world and global broadband connectivity is being explored with a variety of platforms, including drones. Facebook purchased Britain’s Ascenta drone company as part of what it calls its Connectivity Lab project, while Google earlier this year purchased Titan Aerospace.

Near-space platforms at 12 miles (20K meters/65K feet) are 20 times closer than a typical 400-kilometer LEO satellite at 250 miles. High altitude UAVs can stare — 24/7 — without blinking or human needs. Mercury’s sigint computers are powered by nVidia GPUs and Intel processors for TeraFLOPS processing.

IEEE Spectrum has Five Ways to Bring Broadband to the Backwoods, including solar-powered drones, MEO and LEO satellites, balloons, blimps, and White Spaces.

Perhaps not co-incidentally, Google’s rumored fleet of LEO Comsats would weigh about the same as their new Skybox imaging satellites, or about 250 pounds (113 Kilograms).

Supposedly, the LEO comsats would operate in circular orbits of 800 and 950 kilometers inclined 88.2 degrees relative to the equator. Google may try for a regulatory deadlines of between late 2019 and mid-2020 to enter service by the ITU, using the Ku band (12/14 GHz).

In other news, the third MUOS secure military communications satellite has been delivered to Florida by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy for launch next year. MUOS, or Mobile User Objective System, spacecraft, is a geosynchronous platform that can send and receive secure voice and data communications directly to handsets.

MUOS-1 and MUOS-2 were launched respectively launched in 2012 and 2013. The MUOS Constellation will consist of Four Satellites in Geosynchronous Orbit with one on-orbit spare. A total of 16 communication beams can be provided by each satellite. MUOS will replace the legacy UHF Follow-On and operates primarily in the 300 MHz band which penetrates foliage well.

MUOS utilizes 3G (WCDMA) cell phone technology which was a pretty big deal back in 2002. Data rates of up to 384kbps will be available for mobile users. Today’s drones, however, now depend on commercial broadband satellites for most of their kill missions.

Related DailyWireless Space and Satellite News includes; Google Buys Skybox Imaging for $500 Million, Fleet of LEO Comsats for Google?, Satellite Swarms Revolutionize Earth Imaging, Google Buying Drone Company Titan, Facebook Announces Connectivity Lab, Amazon & Globalstar Test Wireless Service, GlobalStar Promotes “Licensed” WiFi in 2.4 GHz band, OuterNet: CubeSat Datacasting?, Planet Labs’ Photo CubeSats Released,SpaceX: Geosynchronous Launch, Antarctic Expeditions Go Live, ExactEarth Launches 5th AIS Satellite, ViaSat-1 Launched

GoAntenna: 10 Mile Cell Communications – Without Towers

GoTenna has developed a 6-inch-long antenna that connects to iPhones and Android phones via Bluetooth low energy. The antenna then transmits the data to other GoTennas through proprietary protocols, at 151-154 MHz. You can send text messages up to 160 characters as well as share your location on offline maps.

The gadget is available for preorder at $150 for two devices, since it takes two devices to form a peer-to-peer network.

It uses the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), an unlicensed personal radio service in the 150 MHz band. The goTenna is dependent on FCC approval and is currently undergoing FCC testing. If it doesn’t pass, money would be refunded, says the company.

According to the company, you can send & receive messages for free:

  • Share locations on detailed, offline maps (also for free!)
  • Instantaneous transmission within range
  • Automatic message retry & delivery confirmation
  • Individual & group messaging
  • “Shout” broadcasts to anyone within range
  • Proximal friend map & location pinging
  • Emergency chat
  • End-to-end encryption (RSA-1024) & self-destructing messages
  • Compatible with iOS & Android devices

When cell towers and wifi aren’t available, goTenna makes the phone you have in your hand useful. CEO and co-founder Daniela Perdomo told GigaOM that GoTenna’s range is limited only by the horizon, or up to nine miles in open environments. In a heavily wooded area, the signal would travel a shorter distance, but still about four miles. A goTenna can only be paired to one phone at a time.

The part-95 radio services (FRS/GMRS/MURS) is available for unlicensed use in the United States. It is intended for short-range local voice or data communications.

The 150 MHz VHF band, used by the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), propagates better outdoors. The 450 MHz UHF band is used by the Family Radio Service (FRS) has a maximum output of 500 mW while the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS uses the lower 7 channels of FRS, in the 462 MHz range, with a maximum of 5 watts ERP. It requires a valid GMRS license, but propagates better in buildings and urban areas.

In Portland this Saturday cargo biking was utilized in the Disaster Relief Trials. Cell phones were turned off. Cyclists used paper maps and pedal power to move supplies.

Riders were required to haul 100 pounds of cargo over a 30-mile, obstacle-strewn course. In the more family-friendly Replenish Class, riders will be required to carry one passenger on a 15-mile “post-disaster household supply run.”

The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Multnomah County Emergency Management agencies were on-site at the Oregon Museum of Science to track the riders via radio. Representatives from the FEMA Region 10 staffed checkpoints.

Maybe next year goTennas and smartphones will enable real-time tracking and messaging.

Satellite Capacity Report: Supply & Demand

Northern’s Sky Research has released their 2014 Global Satellite Capacity Supply & Demand report, which projects that over 3,000 new transponders and 2+ Tbps of High Throughput Satellite capacity will far outstrip demand growth over the next decade.

Despite the reality of oversupply in a few regions and bands, NSR projects the market will grow by 76%, from about $11.8 Billion currently to $21.1 Billion by 2023.

On the supply side, NSR expects that nearly 3,000 transponders will be added based on satellites entering service between now and 2023. “Nearly every satellite being launched will carry traditional Ku-band, thus adding 1500 transponders of just Ku-band by 2017. This continues until the effect of HTS supply begins to eat into the broader demand, a phenomenon not expected until the end of this decade”, says the report.

Global demand paints a cautiously optimistic picture, with over 1,300 transponders of new demand for traditional C, Ku, and Ka-band capacity arising by 2023, supplemented by nearly 1 Tbps of new GEO-HTS demand. “Looking at global demand, the hype surrounding HTS is indeed justified, with a demand growth rate of over 30% annually, compared to less than 2% for traditional FSS C, Ku, and Widebeam Ka-band capacity,” reports Blaine Curcio, Analyst and report co-author.

GlobalStar WiFi Hotspot Ready to Go

Globalstar’s Sat-Fi, available today, lets Globalstar customers can use their current smartphones, tablets and laptops to send and receive communications when traveling beyond cellular using a wireless access point.

Sat-Fi provides shared mobile satellite voice and data, but doesn’t use Globalstar’s unique extension to the WiFi band (on Channel 14). A smartphone app enables connectivity between any Wi-Fi-enabled device and the Sat-Fi satellite hot spot. It’s not a high speed link, but you can send and receive email and SMS text messages and make voice calls.

Globalstar’s proposed Terrestrial Low-Power Service service (TLPS), would use their 2483.5-2495MHz downlink band. The “Wi-Fi extension” would be a new 22 MHz channel within the 2.4 GHz band. Globalstar uses 1610-1618.725 MHz for uplinks, but satphones are rarely used in cities (or indoors) so using their 2.4 GHz downlink would apparently not be a big problem for Globalstar in urban locations. The WiFi extension is still just a concept by Globalstar.

Globalstar claims Sat-Fi delivers speeds 4x faster than the competition with airtime plans, starting at $39.99/month and with Unlimited voice and data plans for $149.99/month. Sat-Fi is available for purchase for $999. Globalstar’s second generation constellation was completed in February, 2013.

Google Buys Skybox Imaging for $500 Million

Google said on Tuesday it had bought Skybox Imaging, a company that provides high-resolution photos using satellites, for $500 million in cash, reports Re-Code.

Skybox provides sub-meter imagery as well as 90-second videos from its network of satellites. It points them at specific spots to provide analytics about how they change over time. The first images taken by a minifridge-size satellite launched in late November were publicly released Dec. 11 by Skybox.

In November, Skybox sent its first Earth observation satellite, SkySat-1, on a Russian Dnepr rocket. SkySat-2 is slated to piggyback on a Russian rocket in June carrying the Meteor M2 weather satellite.

After building its first two satellites, Skybox hired Space Systems/Loral to build the next 13 spacecraft. Orbital Sciences will launch six in late 2015 from Vandenberg in California.

Weighing roughly 120 kilograms, and launched in 2015 and 2016, these satellites, based on a Skybox design, will capture sub-meter color imagery and up to 90-second HD video clips at 30 frames per second. Once the 13 satellites are launched, Skybox will be able to revisit any point on earth three times per day.

Skybox’s 1-meter-resolution satellites can be built and launched into orbit for well under $50 million each, with a planned operating lifetime of four years. Skybox raised $91 million before the Google announcement. Each of the $50 million Skybox satellites cost about a 10th as much as a traditional earth observation satellites.

Satellite swarms are revolutionizing Earth imaging. The Skybox satellites are significantly larger and orbit higher than the Planet Labs 3U CubeSats. Planet Labs, another Silicon Valley startup, uses an ultra-small 3U Cubesat design, and promise to shake up the field of satellite imagery.

Planet Labs launched 28 mini-satellites from the space station this February.

Their design is based on 10-centimeter-square CubeSats. They use a “3U” — or three-unit — CubeSat design. Flock 1 capabilities include near real-time imagery.

The 28 satellites that make up Planet Lab’s Flock 1 were carried aboard Orbital Sciences’ robotic Cygnus vessel on a run to the space station. All 28 satellites orbit at an altitude of 400 kilometers, powered by solar panels.

Perhaps not co-incidentally, Google’s rumored fleet of LEO Comsats would weigh about the same as their new Skybox imaging satellites, or about 250 pounds (113 Kilograms).

Supposedly, the LEO comsats would operate in circular orbits of 800 and 950 kilometers inclined 88.2 degrees relative to the equator. Google may try for a regulatory deadlines of between late 2019 and mid-2020 to enter service by the ITU, using the Ku band (12/14 GHz).

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Fleet of LEO Comsats for Google?

Google plans to spend more than $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the globe, reports the Wall St Journal.

The project reportedly will start with 180 small, high-capacity satellites orbiting the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and then could expand.

Google’s satellite venture is led by Greg Wyler, founder of O3b Networks , a medium orbit satellite constellation that delivers backhaul to cell sites, which Google has also invested in. Google has also been hiring engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral LLC to work on the project.

Google has also invested in Project Loon, a series of high-altitude balloons to provide broadband to remote parts of the world, and Titan Aerospace, which is building solar-powered drones to provide similar connectivity. Facebook has its own drone effort.

O3b has been planning to launch about a dozen satellites, aiming to serve large areas on either side of the equator. Each O3B will weigh approximately 700 kilograms (1,500 lb) with the beams covering 700 km in diameter (435 miles). The O3b and Iridium NEXT systems (700kg and 800kg respectively) cost at least $40M per satellite to build and launch.

Google’s LEO satellites would weigh less than 113 kilograms, as opposed to the 680 kilograms of O3b’s current design. O3B’s satellite has 12 steerable Ka band antennas (2 beams for gateways, 10 beams for remotes) that use 4.3 GHz of spectrum (2×216 MHz per beam) with 600 MBit/s per direction.

With a budget of 250 pounds (113 Kilograms), stuffing any fancy pants MU-MIMO on-board Google’s LEO would be a challenge. Google’s Ku band LEO satelites, among other things, would have to stop transmitting when within 10 degrees of the equator to prevent interference with geosynch satellites.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which regulates satellite orbital slots and spectrum, shows L5/WorldVu filings as promising to start service in late 2019.

SkyBridge had a similar idea using the Ku-band. It was abandoned for lack of financing, and it is the legacy SkyBridge frequencies that L5/WorldVu proposes to use.

The SkyBridge system would use 80 satellites orbiting at 1,500 km, in 20 orbital planes with four equally spaced satellite per plane. The circular orbital planes would have been inclined at 53 degrees from the equator, 18 degrees apart.

Google’s satellites, apparently, will operate in circular orbits of 800 and 950 kilometers inclined 88.2 degrees relative to the equator, have been given regulatory deadlines of between late 2019 and mid-2020 to enter service, according to ITU records, using the Ku band (12/14 GHz).

Google’s approach might be contrasted with Iridium NEXT spacecraft, the successor to the current constellation, and due to begin launching in the first quarter of 2015. Iridium’s satphone service uses a lower frequency (1.6 GHz), but are no speed demons for internet access.

Iridium NEXT may cost a total of $3 billion. It will have 72 operational satellites and in-orbit spares, orbiting at 780 km × 780 km, cicular orbits, inclined 86.4°.

Each Iridium Next spacecraft employs an L-band (1.6 GHz) phased array antenna for generation of the 48-beam, 4,700 km diameter cellular pattern for direct communication with users. The cross-linked 66 satellite constellation forms a global network in space. Ka-band links provide ground-based backhaul and in-orbit crosslinks.

Satellite consultant Tim Farrar estimated that Google’s rumored 180 small satellites could be launched for as little as about $600 million. But the full 360 satellite system would likely cost $3B for the 100kg satellites and $4B-$5B for the 200-300kg satellites.

Farrar says the planned system is expected to involved 360 LEO Ku-band satellites using a filing by WorldVu in Jersey. He believes the constellation will have 18 planes of 20 satellites, with half at an altitude of 950km and the remainder at 800km. The higher altitude satellites provide global coverage, and the lower satellites being added later, in between the initial 9 planes, provide additional capacity.

It’s not immediately clear how the end user terminals and backhaul could work. Kymeta’s new flat panel beamforming antenna, might eliminate the need for tracking dishes, but they’re not practical on mobile phones. Secondly, if the satellite footprint covers the size of a state (with a million people), then supplying the needed backhaul capacity could be problematic.

Countries can own their geosynchronous airspace, but Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites like Iridium, Globalstar and Orbcomm, require different rules — they fly over many different countries. LEO satellites currently provide only voice and low speed data. ORBCOMM’s 30 satellites, for example, are capable of sending and receiving alphanumeric packets, but can’t provide real-time internet access or voice, since it provides non-realtime store-and-forward connectivity.

ORBCOMM’s 12 Gateway Earth Stations connect with satellites as they pass overhead on four continents, maintaining satellite connectivity and near-real-time messaging capabilities.

Planet Labs’ mini photo satellites were released from the International Space Station in December, 2013.

Planet Labs wants to create – essentially – a live view version of Google Earth. Four satellites were launched February 2013 in what is expected to become a steady stream of miniature satellites ejected from the ISS.

Skybox Imaging aims to launch at least 24 satellites that will be able to take high-definition video of any spot on Earth and capture details just one meter across. Each of its satellites should cost about a 10th as much as a traditional ones, but are significantly larger than the Planet Labs 3U CubeSats.

Skybox’s 1-meter-resolution satellites can be built and launched into orbit for well under $50 million each, with a planned operating lifetime of four years. To date, Skybox has raised $91 million.

Near-space platforms at 12 miles (20K meters/65K feet) are 20 times closer than a typical 400-kilometer LEO satellite at 250 miles. High altitude UAVs can stare — 24/7 — without blinking or human needs. Mercury’s sigint computers are powered by nVidia GPUs and Intel processors for TeraFLOPS processing.

IEEE Spectrum has Five Ways to Bring Broadband to the Backwoods, including solar-powered drones, MEO and LEO satellites, balloons, blimps, and White Spaces.

The move to “High Throughput Satellites” will be key to success in broadband access around the world, says Northern Sky. The geostationary Ka-band satellites already have a spot-beam solution. But, except for Inmarsat and Intelsat, they’re not global.

LEO satellites are one way Google could deliver global access to the internet. Their investment in medium orbit O3B indicates they are serious. But it may be more of a political solution rather than an engineering solution. And it would be no political walk in the park. Private US ventures such as these may have been essentially killed off by the snoops at the NSA.

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