1st Comsat Launched Dec 18, 1958

On December 18, 1958, the world’s first communications satellite was launched. Dubbed SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment), the project was so secret that only 88 people were aware of its existence. Before the date of the SCORE launch, 53 of the 88 people had been told the project had been canceled and they were not to mention to anyone that it had ever existed.

The craft carried messages on a tape recorder which was also used to send a Christmas greeting from President Eisenhower for 13 days:

“This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite traveling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.”

The underlying message was less cheery. The U.S. now had the capability of delivering a nuclear weapon from space.

Sputnik 1, launched on October 4, 1957, was the first satellite and had a radio transmitter, but SCORE’s messages could be uploaded and changed from the ground. Wikipedia has a list of communications satellite firsts.

Satellite swarms are now revolutionizing Earth imaging. Planet Labs, a Silicon Valley startup, uses an ultra-small 3U Cubesat design, and promises to shake up the field of satellite imagery.

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

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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.

Cluster of 37 Satellites Launched

A Russian Dnepr launch vehicle launched 37 spacecraft last month, marking a new record for the most spacecraft launched by a single rocket.

A fleet of 11 Flock 1c small satellites were launched on a mission to generate virtually live high-resolution images of Earth with resolutions of three to five meters. The satellites are designed, developed, manufactured and operated by Planet Labs based in San Francisco.

The lower Flock 1 constellation orbits between 240 and 400 miles above Earth. The 11 Flock 1c satellites, just launched, are in higher polar orbits. The Flock 1 satellites use an X-Band system for the downlink of acquired images and systems telemetry at data rates of up to 120Mbit/s. Primary command uplink is done via S-Band, although a low-speed Telemetry and Command System operating in the UHF band.

About one-third of the 37 small satellites carried Amateur Radio packages. Among the Amateur Radio payloads now in orbit is FUNcube-3, a transponder-only payload. It carries an 400 mW SSB/CW transponder, with an uplink passband of 435.035-435.065 MHz (Lower Sideband) and a downlink passband of 145.935-145.965 MHz (USB).

Meanwhile a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is anticipated to launch on July 14/15 to expand Orbcomm’s capacity with 6, second-generation OG2 spacecraft. SpaceX is scheduled to launch 11 more satellites on another Falcon 9 rocket before the end of the year to round out the upgraded fleet.

The satellites based on a SN-100 platform will join the Orbcomm’s 25 operating first-generation satellites and two ship-tracking satellites used by the company, according to Marc Eisenberg, CEO of Orbcomm. The second-generation constellation will have about 100 times the overall capacity of the existing satellites..

Orbcomm is paying SpaceX $42.6 million for the two Falcon 9 launches, a discount from the approximately $60 million per launch price advertised on SpaceX’s website. As the first commercial customer to pay for a SpaceX launch, Orbcomm secured a low price for two Falcon 9 flights.

Built by Sierra Nevada Corp., the Orbcomm OG2 satellites will provide enhanced ORBCOMM messaging capabilities, increased capacity, and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to track vessels in the open ocean.

The SN-100 platform allows payload data downlink rates of 1 to 310 Mbps and telecom data rates of up to 4 Mbps for up- and downlink. The platform hosts 256 Mbytes of volatile and 16 Mytes of non-volatile memory.

The payload of the OG2 satellites is a VHF communications terminal operating at frequencies of 137 to 153 MHz. It features a Helical Quadrifilar antenna with an 8-meter long boom. The OG2 satellites operate from a circular orbit of 750 Kilometers at an inclination of 52 degrees with the satellites in different planes.

Orbcomm’s messaging satellites, unlike the Iridium Next constellation or GlobalStar’s 32 LEO satellites don’t allow global voice communications with continuous connectivity. They store and forward messaging.

Both Iridium and GlobalStar plan new M2M services, in competition to Orbcomm, by allowing independent contractors to “piggyback” independent hosted services on their satellite platforms.

Iridium NEXT is expected to launch beginning in 2015. It will also consist of 66 satellites, with six in-orbit and nine on-ground spares. In total, SpaceX will launch 70 satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation over two years. Iridium is SpaceX’s largest commercial customer, with an investment of $453.1 million.

Iridium NEXT will host payloads. Space is now fully allocated to two entities, Aireon for its space-based aircraft surveillance application and Harris Corporation for additional auxiliary payloads. Customers can use a whole satellite’s payload capacity, or just share that capacity with other applications and customers that Iridium brings together. Enabled by Harris’ 81 space-qualified ADS-B receivers, the system relies on two avionics components—a GPS navigation source and a datalink (ADS-B unit).

Globalstar also plans a space-based air traffic management system that will compliment ground-based ADS-B on their next generation constellation. ADS-B may replace radar as the primary method for controlling aircraft worldwide. It’s a true over-the-horizon air traffic surveillance system capable of delivering Air Traffic Control (ATC) automation. Aircraft equipped with ADS-B transponders relay precise aircraft location and other flight information to both air-traffic controllers and other ADS-B-equipped planes, much like marine-based AIS systems.

The leading MSS operator, Inmarsat, announced its Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band service back in 2010, and three Ka-band satellites (I-5), each providing 89 fixed spot-beams with over 20 times more capacity than the current satellites in orbit.

The first I-5 satellite was launched in late 2013, and two additional I-5 satellites are expected to be launched later this year, for a start of global GX service sometime in early 2015, delivering up to 50 Mbps per ship.

ViaSat, which provides high-speed Internet to homes in the U.S. under the Exede brand name, has been pushing into the in-flight Wi-Fi market. They inked a roaming deal with French satellite firm Eutelsat that will allow it to offer in-flight Wi-Fi and other satellite broadband services in Europe and the Middle East.

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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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Sea Launch: 15 Years Later

Sea Launch, the rocket launching platform installed on a modified oil drilling platform, celebrated this week the 15 year anniversary of the successful maiden launch of the DemoSat spacecraft that occurred on March 27, 1999.

It was Sea Launch’s inaugural launch. The payload for the first mission was a dummy, designed to mimic the mass properties of a 4,500 kilogram spacecraft, the largest GEO satellite at the time.

Sea Launch was established in 1995 as a consortium of four companies from Norway, Russia, Ukraine and the United States, managed by Boeing.

The idea was to launch directly under the equator, near Hawaii.

The rocket and its payload are assembled on the Sea Launch Commander ship in Long Beach, California, while the self-propelled launching platform , the Ocean Odyssey, is moved to the equatorial Pacific Ocean for launch.

In June 2009 Sea Launch filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Energia, a Russian corporation, now owns and operates Sea Launch. Boeing retains 5 percent of the company’s shares in partnership with Aker Maritime, a Norwegian shipbuilder which provides Sea Launch’s marine vessels.

The chief executive of Sea Launch now says he would be open to a Russian government takeover of the company if it yielded greater access to the market for launching Russian satellites.

Sea Launch is relocating its corporate headquarters from Berne (favorite banking center of the Russian mafia), to Nyon Switzerland.

A competing international launch consortium, International Launch Services was formed in 1995 as a private spaceflight partnership between Lockheed Martin, Khrunichev and Energia. ILS initially co-marketed non-military launches on both the U.S. Atlas and the Russian Proton rockets. In May 2008, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, a Russian company, acquired all of Space Transport’s interest and is now the majority shareholder in ILS. Khrunichev’s main product is the Proton rocket.

The US-Russian joint venture has its headquarters in Reston, Virginia.

SpaceX is an American company making American rockets. Their next Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for the evening of Sunday, March 30 for a space station resupply.

Elon Musk told the Senate Appropriations Subcommitte this month; …”Had SpaceX been awarded the [EELV] missions ULA received under its recent non-competed 36 core block buy, we would have saved the taxpayer $11.6 billion.”

Space X competes with a heavily subsidized Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle from Boeing and Lockheed. Taxpayers subsidized duplicate EELV programs from Boeing and Lockheed until the companies were essentially forced to merge their vastly overbudget EELV programs to form the United Launch Alliance.

The US-based United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, was formed in December 2006 after both companies racked up tens of billions in cost overruns on competing EELV heavy lifter programs.

Lockheed agreed to drop charges that Boeing spied on Lockheed, and to end the litigation both companies agreed to join forces to form the United Launch Alliance. ULA likes to launch the secretive US Air Force X-37B space plane on an Atlas 5.

Some 151 EELV launches are now expected for a program cost of $70 billion (or about $2 billion a launch), according to a Pentagon report released last year.

Many in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have been skeptical about private space ventures like SpaceX and the Commercial Crew Program where astronauts are delivered to the International Spacestation. These lawmakers tend to favor Boeing and Lockheed’s Space Launch System and companion crew capsule Orion, which are being developed at an annual cost of nearly $3 billion.

Unlike the Commercial Crew Program, where industry is largely responsible for vehicle designs, SLS and Orion are being built under traditional government contracts using designs dictated by NASA.

The 2014 omnibus spending bill targets the U.S. Air Force’s EELV program for the biggest reductions. The satellite launching program, a major source of congressional heartburn in recent years due to soaring costs, is now slated to receive $368 million less in 2014 than the $1.8 billion requested by Barack Obama.

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.

Some question how vital the NRO and Aerospace.org really are if UAVs can deliver faster, cheaper and better intelligence.

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Audi Dumps T-Mobile for AT&T Connected Car

Audi’s in-car LTE from AT&T will cost $99 for 5GB over 6 months. Customers will be able to pick between two plans, according to Audi.

The first plan offers 5GB over a period of six months for $99. The second plan provides 30GB over 30-months for $499, which works out to over $16 per gigabyte. With both plans, customers can choose to receive email alerts when they’re nearing their data limit.

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It replaces a slower T-Mobile 3G service. Under the previous (and still current, for some of the lineup) Audi Connect service, where owners get T-Mobile 3G service for $30 a month, or $450 up front for 30 months ($15/mo.).

AT&T Drive is the cellular company’s connected car platform – a modular, global solution that allows automakers to pick and choose what services and capabilities. It will use the new Audi connect system in the 2015 A3 sedan. All Audi A3 sedans equipped with Audi connect will receive a free six-month trial period.

At CES, Audi announced its involvement in the Open Automotive Alliance, a coalition of Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Google, and Nvidia that plans to offer Android-based infotainment systems in cars later this year.

Audi connect features traffic, weather, and directions. It uses Google Earth, Google Voice local search, social media integration and a secure, high-speed Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices.

Google and Apple are battling for the Connected Car. With 80 million new cars and light trucks sold each year, automobiles represent a significant new opportunity for Internet-based software and services.

  • Google has the Open Automotive Alliance which includes Audi, GM, Google, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA.
  • Apple has its squad of iOS in the Car partners. Apple supporters include BMW, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Toyota, Honda, and Chrysler. Apple has said that it expects a dozen car brands to adopt the technology in 2014.
  • Several car makers support both platforms.
  • Notably absent from the list are Ford and Hyundai/Kia. Those automakers are currently using infotainment systems with Microsoft technology as the back end.

Starting this summer, Chevrolet’s new OnStar 4G LTE system will run on AT&T’s LTE network. The 2015 Chevrolet Corvette, Impala, Malibu, and Volt will be the first General Motors’ vehicles to come optionally equipped with OnStar 4G LTE. They will be followed by the Equinox, Silverado, Silverado HD, Spark and Spark EV.

General Motors is curating their AppShop — developers can’t independently push new apps without GM’s approval like they would in Google Play.

Five years ago infotainment ranked 27th on a list of features most cars shopper wanted. Now it’s in the top five.

According to research firm Analysys Mason, 11.5 million connected cars will ship this year, growing to around 170 million in 2023. General Motors’ OnStar service currently has 6 million customers. Worldwide sales of HUD-equipped cars will increase from 1.2 million units in 2012 to 9.1 million in 2020.

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