Editorially Speaking: "Is the Mobility Value Chain Collapsing?"
Feature Interview: "Gilat's Future in IFC, NGSO, Cellular Backhaul and 5G" with CEO Adi Sfadia
"FreeFall Aerospace's Phased Array: An Antenna Like No Other" with CEO Doug Stetson
"Antenna Calibration and Testing by Drone: Innovation in the Air" with CEO Joakim Espeland
In This Issue...
Table of Contents
Industry Trends and Analysis: (pg. 3)
Patee Sarasin, former CEO of Nok Air:
"Unlocking the Riches of In-flight Wi-Fi" (pg. 4)
David Bruner, former V.P. Panasonic Avionics:
"Buckle Up! :Turbulence Ahead in Airline Connectiviy Markets"
"The Promise of the New Iridium and Aireon Services: Big Advancements in Air Traffic Management on the Horizon" (pg. 26)
Ernst Peter Hovinga, CEO Hiber: "Disrupting the Satellite IoT Connectivity Market: The Promise of Hiber" (p.31)
"Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events"
Satellite mobility World
Highlighting Disruptive, New, Mobility-Focused Satellite Ventures and Technologies
Cover: FreeFall Aerospace's All-SkyTM Antenna
Volume VI, No. II February 2021
Table of Contents...
"Hot News and Commentary" (pg.3)
"SmallSat News and Ventures" (pg. 4)
Editorially Speaking: "Is the Mobility Value Chain Collapsing?" (pg. 6)
"Gilat's Future in IFC, NGSO, Cellular Backhaul & 5G" with CEO Adi Sfadia (pg. 10)
"FreeFall Aerospace's Phased Array: An Antenna Like No Other" with CEO Doug Stetson (pg. 23)
"Antenna Testing and Calibration by Drone: Innovation in the Air" with DEA Joakim Espeland (pg. 32)
Upcoming Satellite Industry Events (Pg. 40)
SATELLITE MOBILITY WORLD
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Welcome to the February 2021 issue of Satellite Mobility World. This month, we feature an interview with newly appointed Gilat CEO, Adi Sfadia. It's been a turbulent year for Gilat. The company's aero mobility business has been heavily impacted by the COVID 19 crisis, precipitating a collapse in its merger with Comtech. Despite the situation, Gilat has endured, winning significant new business and announced a $50 million award from a leading satellite operator in recent days.
Turning to our editorial, Is the Mobility Value Chain Collapsing?, we focus on the wave of consolidation that's sweeping maritime and aero markets and its future. Following that, we unveil a new and potentially disruptive Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA), Free Fall Aerospace's All-Sky Antenna.
Ironically, the All-SkyTM Antenna comes from the world of Radio Astronomy, not the mainstream satellite industry. Invented by Dr. Chris Walker, a noted Radio Astronomer, the antenna incorporates a proprietary phased array line feed that electronically steers the beam within a spherical reflector. Originally conceived as an inflatable antenna for use with CubeSats, it can be used as a half-sphere on the ground to track satellites. It's a straightforward and low-cost solution with the potential to disrupt the entire satellite industry.
Our final feature highlights another notable new technology, Quadsat's unique drone-based antenna calibration solution. Using a drone, the company simulates a satellite, allowing satellite operators and integrators to eliminate the cost of test ranges and on-site satellite calibration.
Join us for a look at these exciting and disruptive new technologies.
Satellite Mobility World
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Satellite Mobility World is published by Gottlieb International Group, Inc.
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© Copyright 2020
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Published by Gottlieb International Group, Inc.
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Gottlieb's Satellite and Mobility World is published monthly (except August) by Gottlieb International Group., Inc. Suite 100, 1209 South Frederick Street, Arlington, VA USA 22204 © Copyright 2019
Hot News and Commentary
Starlink Adds Laser Crosslinks to First 10 Polar Satellites and All Satellites Planned for Launched in 2022
WASHINGTON, January 29, 2021: SpaceX has confirmed that its first ten satellites launched into polar orbit are equipped with laser crosslinks, and all will be starting in 2022. This is a hugely significant development as inter-satellite links are critical to achieving global coverage, high-speed global transfer of data, as well as limiting the number ground stations required. Global coverage is vital if the company is to compete in shipping, aero, finance and mobility markets. We believe that while the constellation is initially targeted to consumers, to achieve profitability, it will have to shift focus to higher margin and more lucrative enterprise markets, just like OneWeb.
Speedcast Expects to Emerge from Chapter 11 in the First Quarter of 2021
SYDNEY, January 25, 2020 – Speedcast International Limited (ASX:SDA) (together with its subsidiaries, “Speedcast” or the “Company”) today announced that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas has confirmed Speedcast International Limited and certain of its affiliates’ Plan of Reorganization (the “Plan”). The confirmation definitively clears the path for the Company to successfully complete the Chapter 11 process after receiving final regulatory approvals and satisfying customary closing conditions, which is expected by the end of the first quarter of 2021. The Company is poised to emerge with a significantly strengthened balance sheet and the support of Centerbridge Partners, L.P. and its affiliates as its new owner.
“The Court’s confirmation of the Plan marks a key milestone in the Company’s efforts to become a stronger business and positions us to emerge in the near term, having achieved our goals,” said Stephe Wilks, Chair of Speedcast. “Throughout the restructuring process, the Company’s global workforce has delivered on its commitments while adapting to change. On behalf of the Board, we are immensely grateful for the ongoing patience and trust that the Company’s employees, customers and partners have shown in this process.”
Joe Spytek will take on the role of Speedcast’s Chief Executive Officer, leading the company upon emergence under the new Centerbridge ownership. Spytek has served as Speedcast’s President and Chief Commercial Officer for the last year after being tapped to join the organization to help implement its turnaround.
“With a bolstered financial foundation and with the support of Centerbridge, one of the world’s leading investment funds, Speedcast is well-positioned to maximize its full potential as the Company works to build a platform that addresses customers’ most demanding operations and application requirements now, and in the future,” said Spytek. “Looking ahead, this agility and commitment to innovation will continue as Speedcast keeps raising the bar for itself and the industry as a whole.”
“Speedcast’s best-in-class technology and connectivity solutions provide a leading value proposition to the Company’s customers, enhancing productivity, communication and safety,” said Jared Hendricks, Senior Managing Director, Centerbridge. “We continue to be excited about investing behind Joe and the Speedcast team's innovation and support of its customers and partners in the next phase of growth for the Company.”
Under the terms of the Plan, Speedcast is set to emerge with a new USD $500 million equity investment from Centerbridge, which will be used in part to repay all of its USD $285 million debtor-in-possession financing, as well as a permanent reduction of all of the USD $634 million senior secured debt of the Company.
As previously indicated, the Plan also provides for, among other things, a cash payment to holders of secured claims and cash payment to certain of Speedcast’s critical trade vendors. Unsecured creditors will share in recoveries from a litigation trust. The Plan does not contemplate any recovery for existing shareholders, who will no longer have an equity interest in the reorganized Company following its emergence.
Intelsat Chairman, David McGlade, Accused of Insider Trading Washington D.C., January 17, 2021: In a stunning development, Intelsat Chairman, David McGlade, has been accused of joining with private-equity firms BC Partners and Silver Lake Partners in an insider trade to dispose of $250 million in Intelsat stock. In a lawsuit filed by law firm Labaton Sucharow in a California Federal Court, McGlade and the the two private equity firms are alleged to have sold the stock on November 5th, the same day in which a private meeting between Intelsat CEO Steven Spengler and FCC General Counsel, Nicholas Degani occurred.
Plaintiffs allege that during the meeting Spengler was informed that Intelsat's proposal to allow his firm and others in the C-Band Alliance to bi-pass the traditional FCC auction process and sell billions of dollars in C-Band spectrum on their own and retain most of the proceed would likely be rejected. Without the money from the CBA auction sale, Intelsat would lose billions in expected windfall revenues, crashing the value of the stock and potentially driving the company into bankruptcy - exactly what happened after the FCC later announced that it would auction the spectrum itself.
Marlink Group Enters Into a Definitive Agreement To Acquire ITC Global
Oslo/Paris/Houston TX, 13 January 2021. Marlink Group, backed by Apax Partners (France), has signed a definitive agreement to acquire 100% of ITC Global, the leading provider of satellite communications solutions, from Panasonic. Upon completion of the acquisition, ITC Global will become a cornerstone of the Marlink Group, supporting the expansion of Marlink’s global leadership in the energy and enterprise markets.
ITC Global brings an unparalleled expertise in managed, high-value, high-performance satellite network solutions to the fast-growing Marlink Group. The company’s strong reputation in the Energy, Enterprise and Maritime Passenger markets will enable the Group to further expand its leadership position in these highly demanding market segments. In addition, the Marlink Group will leverage the complementarity of ITC Global to diversify and strengthen its commercial operations in the US, UK and Australia further geographically.
Most importantly, their respective customers will benefit greatly from the combined Group’s enhanced capabilities and strength as a sustainable leading provider for their business-critical remote connectivity solutions. The acquisition will provide the Marlink Group with synergistic platforms to offer best-in-class managed satcoms services and further develop its industry-leading Smart Network Solutions for its customers.
The closing of the transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and is expected in the first quarter of 2021.
OneWeb Secures Investment From Softbank and Hughes
OneWeb has raised $1.4 billion in total financing
SoftBank to take a seat on OneWeb Board of Directors
London, 15 January, 2021 -OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications company jointly owned by the UK Government and Bharti Global, announced today that it has secured additional funding from SoftBank Group Corp. (“SoftBank”) and Hughes Network Systems LLC (“Hughes”), bringing OneWeb’s total funding to $1.4 billion. The capital raised to date positions the Company to be fully funded for its first-generation satellite fleet, totaling 648 satellites, by the end of 2022.
OneWeb’s mission is to deliver broadband connectivity worldwide to bridge the global Digital Divide by offering everywhere access including to the Internet of Things (IoT) future and a pathway to 5G. OneWeb’s LEO satellite system includes a network of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals for different customer markets capable of delivering affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency communications services. In December 2020, OneWeb launched 36 new satellites, built at its Airbus Joint Venture assembly plant in Florida, USA, bringing the Company’s total fleet to 110 satellites, all fully-functioning and benefitting from International Telecommunication Union spectrum priority.
Delta Selects Viasat's In-Flight Connectivity to Revolutionize the Customer Experience; Viasat to Deliver Enhanced Connectivity and a Path to Personalized, Free Content
CARLSBAD, Calif., January 5, 2021 – Viasat Inc. (NASDAQ: VSAT), a global communications company, today announced Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) selected Viasat’s industry-leading, next-generation Ka-band satellite in-flight connectivity (IFC) solution for more than 300 mainline narrow-body aircraft, including both new delivery and retrofits on A321ceo, 737-900ER and select 757-200 aircraft. Delta expects to bring the Viasat technology onboard these aircraft starting summer 2021, with Delta having the option to add additional fleets.
Delta will be upgrading its current IFC system to Viasat’s more advanced Ka-band satellite-powered technology to provide all customers with enhanced and reliable in-flight internet capabilities—including faster, more consistent connections and an ability to stream all types of entertainment and popular over-the-top content—to any internet-ready device, gate-to-gate. The Viasat/Delta relationship will lay the groundwork toward a true full, fast and free in-flight internet experience as well as future enhancements and personalization on customer seatback screens.
“We are constantly looking for new ways to delight our customers and offer an unparalleled onboard experience,” said Bill Lentsch, chief customer experience officer, Delta. “In working with Viasat, we gain the tools needed to deepen customer interactions and bring us closer to delivering more personalized in-flight content as well as an ability to consistently provide free, fast, streaming Wi-Fi in the future.”
“Delta is committed to optimize the customer journey, and we’re committed to helping them build a foundation toward a better in-flight internet and entertainment experience,” said Rick Baldridge, president and CEO, Viasat. “We have a proven in-flight connectivity solution that is high-quality, streaming-capable and can scale to meet Delta’s growing customer demand. We’re proud to be part of their connected ecosystem.”
Delta’s aircraft will be outfitted with Viasat's latest Ka-band IFC system, and will be compatible with Viasat's complete fleet of satellites, including Viasat's first-generation spacecraft and partner satellites; its second-generation spacecraft ViaSat-2, and the forthcoming ViaSat-3 class of satellites, which are expected to offer global coverage with nearly eight times more capacity than Viasat's current fleet—which means even more enhanced connectivity and streaming services to keep up with expected increases in demand.
For more information on how Delta plans to accelerate the future of in-flight connectivity, please read a Q&A with Delta’s Director of Brand Experience In-Flight Entertainment & Wi-Fi, Ekrem Dimbiloglu – found in Delta’s News Hub.
XipLink Wins Deloitte Fast 500 Award
One of the Highest Growth Companies in all of North America
February 1, 2021 – Montréal, QC: XipLink, the technology leader in Wireless Link Optimization, is proud to announce the
company has won the prestigious Deloitte "Fast 500" award in 2020 for the fiscal year ending in 2019. The award is
measured in terms of revenue growth over a three-year period and is unique by including both Canadian and US companies
in the competition. Evaluators are sent to each company either in-person prior to Covid-19 or virtually during the pandemic
period. Results are reviewed for consistency and accuracy as one expects from a leading worldwide accounting firm.
Jack Waters, CEO at XipLink notes, "As many readers understand, starting a company and then growing to sustain itself is
extremely difficult. Because XipLink has been funded by the original founders and our shareholder employees without
institutional investment, the growth curve has been gradual but steady over our fourteen-year lifetime. In the last few years
our strategy to focus on vertical markets in Maritime, Cellular Backhaul, Government/Defense and rural ISP trunking
markets has paid off with higher growth rates and a very healthy company. We are extremely proud of our employees for
achieving a key goal by reaching the Deloitte Fast 500 list with a growth rate of 215% over a three-year window."
“For more than 25 years, we’ve been honoring companies that define the cutting edge and this year’s Technology Fast 500
list is proof positive that technology — from software and digital media platforms, to biotech — truly does permeate so
many facets of our lives,” said Paul Silverglate, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. technology sector leader. “We
congratulate this year’s winners, especially during a time when innovation is needed more than ever to address the
monumental challenges posed by the pandemic.” If you would like to learn more about the Technology Fast 500 program,
please go to: www.Fast500.com .
Omnispace Continues to Advance the Development of its Global 5G Hybrid Mobile Network
TYSONS, VA. – February 2, 2021 – Omnispace, the company that is reinventing mobile communications by building a global hybrid network, announced today that it closed on a round of $60 million in equity financing that advances its development of its 5G non-terrestrial network (NTN) and expands its 2 GHz spectrum footprint in key markets globally. The Omnispace network will power critical global communications, including 5G and mobile Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, directly from its satellites in space to mobile devices around the world.
Led by new investor Fortress Investment Group, the latest round includes funding from existing investors Columbia Capital, Greenspring Associates, TDF Ventures and Telcom Ventures.
This funding enables the company to build upon the investments it has already made to validate 3GPP standards-based 5G products and technologies, and demonstrate 5G connectivity from space. The financing also paves the way for Omnispace to accelerate market access initiatives to secure 2 GHz mobile satellite service (MSS) and complementary ground component (CGC) spectrum globally, which will anchor its next-generation hybrid mobile system. Together these efforts provide the foundation for commercial partnerships with mobile network operators, who enable the terrestrial component of the hybrid network, and wireless technology and device manufacturers.
"Omnispace represents the next evolution of mobile telecommunications. The company recognizes that industries now require truly global mobile connectivity without compromise. Omnispace will be the first to power global 5G from space to universal devices on a single, seamless network leveraging their 2 GHz spectrum platform,” said Joshua Pack, Managing Partner, Fortress Investment Group.
“We are forging ahead in the delivery of truly mobile 5G connectivity solutions from space. Our network will leverage harmonized 2 GHz spectrum to bring the power of 5G to users and industries around the globe,” said Ram Viswanathan, president and CEO for Omnispace. “We’re delighted Fortress Investment Group and our investors share in our commitment to drive innovative, mobile connectivity solutions.”
Omnispace’s ‘one global network’ will utilize the company’s priority 2 GHz S-band spectrum rights and will be compliant with 3GPP 5G standards, which will ensure security and interoperability of devices all over the world. The initial elements of the Omnispace network will enter into service in 2022, advancing the commercial, technological, and regulatory initiatives and ensure successful launch of the global system.
For more information about XipLink please visit www.xiplink.com .
Comtech Telecommunications Corp. Awarded $11.4 Million Delivery Order for Satellite Earth Station Equipment
January 28, 2021: MELVILLE, N.Y.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 28, 2021-- January 28, 2021-- Comtech Telecommunications Corp. (NASDAQ: CMTL) announced today, that during its second quarter of fiscal 2021, its Tempe, Arizona-based subsidiary, Comtech EF Data Corp., which is part of Comtech’s Commercial Solutions segment, was awarded an $11.4 million delivery order in support of a previously announced $58.8 million indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (“IDIQ”) contract from the U.S. Naval Information Warfare Systems Command. Funded orders received to-date under this IDIQ contract now total $42.1 million.
The delivery order specified Comtech EF Data’s SLM-5650B Satellite Modems and firmware upgrades. The SLM-5650B Satellite Modem is Comtech EF Data’s latest generation modem product targeted for critical commercial backhaul, government and military applications. The SLM-5650B leverages the heritage and feature set of the SLM-5650A modem. The SLM-5650B supports backwards compatibility/interoperability for existing SLM-5650A networks while providing enhanced performance and an expanded feature set. The commercially available modems will support satellite communications and interoperability across the Navy’s platforms and shore sites.
“It is a privilege to have the continued opportunity to support the U.S. Navy’s satellite communications requirements with our latest generation solutions,” said Fred Kornberg, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Comtech Telecommunications Corp.
Comtech EF Data Corp. is a leading supplier of communications equipment with a focus on satellite bandwidth efficiency and link optimization. The high-performance satellite communications ground equipment is deployed globally to support mission-critical and demanding applications for government, mobile backhaul, premium enterprise and mobility. Service providers, satellite operators, governments and commercial users wanting to optimize communications, increase throughput and delight customers, are leveraging the performance and flexibility of the Comtech brand. The solutions are facilitating fixed and mobile networks in 160+ countries and across every ocean. For more information, visit www.comtechefdata.com.
ThinKom Completes Successful Over-the-Air Tests with K/Q-Band Phased-Array Multi-Beam Antenna on Protected Comms Satellite
HAWTHORNE, Calif. – Jan. 11, 2021 – ThinKom Solutions, Inc., recently completed successful over-the-air tests of a pair of 17-inch active diameter K/Q-band phased-array antennas communicating through an Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite.
The tests verified that the antenna, based on ThinKom’s patented Variable Inclination Continuous Transverse Stub (VICTS) architecture, meets or exceeds all performance metrics for operating effectively with the frequency-hopping waveform of the AEHF protected communications satellite network.
A broad range of uplink and downlink communication plans and modes were tested on an operational K/Q-band satellite, exercising full 1 GHz and 2GHz “hopped” bandwidths. The VICTS antennas successfully acquired, tracked, logged on and joined downlink and uplink services in all cases at elevation angles from 24 to 73 degrees.
“The stabilized beam of the VICTS antenna eliminates the need for ‘de-hopping,’ requiring substantially less processing power than electronically steered antennas and given that VICTS is the only phased-array technology that can work with very widespread waveforms, it uniquely enables use on new communication waveforms such as the Protected Tactical Waveform,” said Bill Milroy, chairman and CTO of ThinKom Solutions.
The conformal flat-panel VICTS phased-array antennas can be cavity mounted on a variety of aero, naval and land-mobile platforms, according to Milroy.
The constellation of six AEHF satellites provides secure, survivable, jam-resistant and near-worldwide satellite communications for U.S. sea, ground and air assets.
XipLink Announces Appointment of Omar Diab, VP of EMEAA
Experienced Sales Director to Manage Fast Growing regions
January 12,, 2021 – Montréal, QC: XipLink, the technology leader in Wireless Link Optimization is proud to announce that Omar Diab, based in Dubai, UAE, has joined the XipLink team as the VP of Sales for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia (EMEAA) regions. Omar will initially focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) area while also picking up overall management responsibility for existing XipLink sales teams in Europe and Asia. The EMEAA markets have been growing rapidly for XipLink with focus on Cellular Backhaul, Telco’s, Maritime, Defense and Mobility. Strategic partnerships across the regions and rapid growth, calls for regional presence and focus with a keen understanding of the market challenges and diversified landscapes.
In his recent 13 year tenure at iDirect, Omar was responsible for growing the Middle East region dating back to the inception of their regional Dubai office in 2007. He also has a solid technical background in the satellite communications space where he setup networks all over the MENA region. He has extensive experience in sales and management of Telcos, MNOs, Satellite Operators as well as Gov’t and Defense sectors.
Jack Waters, CEO at XipLink notes, "We have known Omar for many years and enjoy working alongside him on various satellite networking projects. Now that he is moving to the network optimization business, XipLink is very fortunate to obtain his sales leadership at exactly the right time."
SatADSL Bridges Brazilian Connectivity Market with Telespazio Brazil Partnership
Brussels Belgium and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 14 January 2021 - A new path to accessing Brazil’s connectivity market has been laid out for satellite service providers with the announcement of a partnership between SatADSL and Telespazio.
Telespazio Brazil will offer their connectivity via SatADSL’s Cloud-service Delivery Platform (C-SDP) and the Yahsat3 satellite, providing 26 Ka-band spot beams supported by ST Engineering technology. This enables SatADSL to deploy their full range of dynamic services across the country and provide Telespazio Brazil with access to additional markets in Latin America
SVP of Business Development at SatADSL Guillermo Bosch said, “This is an exciting strategic development for us. Partnership with Telespazio opens up the Brazilian market and allows us to deliver solutions to new customers – in a time when reliable connectivity is more important than ever – as well as giving our teleport partners already connected to our platform the ability to access the biggest market in the region for their own customers.”
The C-SDP facilitates customer connectivity while eliminating the high cost traditionally associated with satellite infrastructure. By virtue of this new partnership between Telespazio and SatADSL, dynamic and high-performance IP access will be made more readily available in Brazil, providing a valuable utility during the ongoing pandemic, where reliable connectivity is becoming more and more essential.
Telespazio Brasil’s CEO Marzio Laurenti said, “SatADSL have established themselves as a secure, reliable partner with an impressive platform and the ability to support and facilitate the continued success of our satellite solutions in South America.”
The new partnership represents a continuation of SatADSL’s efforts to fulfil their vision of providing “continent-to-continent connectivity” with their innovative C-SDP, breaking down the barriers traditionally associated with satellite deployments, namely cost, even in the most remote regions.
Smallsat News and Ventures
ICEYE Establishes World's Top-Performing Persistent Monitoring Satellite Capabilities with Three New SAR Spacecraft Successfully Launched
Washington, D.C. – January 25, 2021 – ICEYE, the global leader in persistent monitoring with radar satellite imaging, announces today the successful launch of three ICEYE SAR satellites on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 smallsat rideshare mission via EXOLAUNCH. This raises the total number of launched ICEYE missions to 10, including commercial and dedicated customer missions. Early operation procedures with all 3 spacecraft have been successfully finalized, and each satellite’s SAR instrument is currently going through commissioning.
After commissioning these 3 new spacecraft, ICEYE operates the world’s largest, most agile SAR satellite constellation, providing global commercial access and persistent monitoring. ICEYE’s constellation is able to provide the world’s most reliable and frequent images of customers’ areas of interest, regardless of time of day, or weather conditions.
“The successful launch of three ICEYE SAR satellites is an excellent start to 2021 and reinforces ICEYE’s unmatched capabilities in persistent monitoring. This is the beginning of a significant ramp up of spacecraft builds from our expanded facilities in Europe and a new manufacturing site in the U.S.,” said Jerry Welsh, CEO of ICEYE US. “The new U.S. site will be used to build and operate dedicated spacecraft providing ICEYE flexibility in supporting U.S. and global customers.”
ICEYE empowers commercial and government partners with persistent monitoring of any location on Earth. The company helps customers make informed, data-driven decisions to address time-critical challenges in various industries and uses such as border security, flood monitoring and oil spill clean-up.
“As ICEYE continues to expand its constellation of SAR satellites, it provides the opportunity to image more locations each day,” said Eric Jensen, President of ICEYE US. “Our customers receive dependable and frequent imaging that provides persistent monitoring of locations addressing time-critical needs. This reinforces ICEYE’s market-leading position in providing change detection applications.”
The company raised $87 million in the Series C funding round last year, bringing its total fundraising to $152 million. At least another 8 ICEYE satellites are being manufactured for launch still within this year. Equipped with cloud-piercing radar sensors, the company’s satellites can image day or night and in all weather conditions at incredibly high resolutions.
The Astrocast Nanosatellite IoT Network Goes Live
LAUSANNE, Switzerland--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Astrocast announced today, that the Astrocast Nanosatellite IoT Network has officially gone live after the successful launch of five new satellites on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. With this launch, the Astrocast Network becomes one of the most advanced nanosatellite IoT Networks available and the first Swiss telecom satellite operator.
“This is a critical milestone for both Astrocast and a long list of customers and partners,” said Fabien Jordan, CEO of Astrocast. “With the Astrocast Network, our customers will have two-way communications with their IoT assets even into some of the world’s most remote and challenging regions. And these five satellites are just the beginning.”
The Astrocast Nanosatellite IoT Network
The Astrocast Network delivers the most comprehensive nanosatellite constellations on the market, for IoT companies looking to monitor remote assets. Since the successful launch of two pilot satellites in 2018 and 2019, Astrocast has increased the power and performance of its nanosatellites significantly. Today’s Astrocast nanosatellites have 100 times more communication speed and onboard storage. The Astrocast Network also features:
low-latency communications from asset all the way back to headquarters
global L-Band spectrum
ultra-low power terminals with low-profile patch antennas
satellite propulsion to avoid debris in space
In addition, the Astronode S is two to three times less expensive than conventional bidirectional satellite IoT terminals. Astrocast will continue to grow this constellation with an additional 15 satellites on two launches later this year.
“With this first commercial launch Astrocast is immediately expanding the capacity for IoT devices around the globe. Our initial focus is in solving the critical issues of IoT devices in remote areas for the AgTech, Livestock and Environmental markets,” Jordan explained. “We are now ready to fulfill the Astrocast promise and I couldn’t be prouder of the team.”
Hawkeye360 Announces the Deployment of Next-Generation Radio Frequency Sensing Satellites
Herndon, Virginia (January 24, 2021) — HawkEye 360 Inc., the first commercial company to use formation-flying satellites to create a new class of radio frequency (RF) data and data analytics, today announced that Cluster 2 — the company’s second cluster of satellites — has successfully been deployed into orbit.
After launching aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 this Sunday morning, the trio of satellites was dispensed from Spaceflight Inc.’s Sherpa-FX orbital transfer vehicle and has established communications with the HawkEye 360 satellite operations center. In the weeks ahead, the satellites will be fully tested, commissioned, and moved into their final formation needed to detect, characterize and geolocate RF signals.
“The expansion of our pioneering constellation is the first of several strong steps we have planned to multiply our existing capabilities and explore new possibilities for RF geospatial intelligence,” said CEO John Serafini. “We are proud to be the leading provider of RF insights to U.S. government, international governments, commercial and humanitarian interests, and we believe our newest deployment, which increases the frequency, quality and quantity of insights we are able to deliver, will be an invaluable resource for our customers.”
The company processes and analyzes RF signal data collected by the satellites to deliver actionable insights and a unique layer of knowledge for national security operations, maritime domain awareness, environmental protection and numerous additional applications.
Cluster 2 follows the company’s first Pathfinder cluster of satellites, launched two years ago, but is significantly more powerful. The new satellites can process data at a faster rate — leading to increased geolocations with an even greater degree of accuracy — and are equipped with new software-defined radios (SDR) that can simultaneously collect signals from a wide range of frequencies. These workhorse satellites provide significant capacity increases to meet the demand for robust space-based RF data and analytics required by HawkEye 360’s customers.
Kepler Communications Announces Successful Launch of 8 New GEN 1 Satellites
TORONTO, ONTARIO, January 24th, 2021 – Kepler Communications welcomed eight new satellites into their constellation today, further expanding the active constellation to 13 satellites in total. These eight satellites, KEPLER-8 through KEPLER-15, were successfully launched via SpaceX’s first dedicated SmallSat Rideshare Program mission at approximately 10:00 AM EDT this morning. Once fully operational within the constellation these will significantly increase the capacity of Kepler’s Global Data Services offering.
Kepler’s GEN 1 satellites were assembled at Kepler’s facility in Toronto. The GEN1 platform represents an evolution beyond Kepler’s pathfinder satellites, with an increase to a 6U-XL satellite system. The increased size accommodates significant technology enhancements, including additional power and antenna capabilities that allows the support of both Ku and narrowband spectrum from a single satellite. This multi-spectrum support is achieved with Kepler’s proprietary Software Defined Radio (SDR) which has been proven onboard the five satellites already on orbit.
Mina Mitry, CEO of Kepler Communications said of the GEN1 satellite launch, “We're excited to continue our network deployment in response to the overwhelming global demand for our network capacity. As our network continues to grow, we move closer to recognizing Kepler's vision of providing connectivity on and off the surface of the Earth."
Wen Cheng Chong, CTO of Kepler Communications added, “The launch of 8 GEN1 satellites on the Falcon 9 merely a few months after the launch of 2 GEN1 pathfinder satellites clearly demonstrates Kepler’s ability to 10x our capability in a short period of time; practically unheard of for a company of our size. This showcases the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our Engineering team and the company at large. We’re well on our way to recognizing Kepler’s vision of providing the internet in space.”
Kepler’s launch plans include several additional launches in 2021, with launches planned for the first half of 2021 in March and June, which will add additional GEN1 satellites to the Kepler constellation. As with today’s launch, these satellites will service the growing customer demand for Global Data Services and increase our ability to provide an industry leading service.
Nanoracks Completes First SpaceX Rideshare Mission
JANUARY 24, 2021 – Cape Canaveral– Nanoracks is pleased to share the successful completion of the Company’s first mission on a SpaceX rideshare launch. Nanoracks brokered the launch and deployment of eight Spire LEMUR-2 CubeSats and of an emissions monitoring microsatellite, GHGSAT-C2 (“Hugo”).
Nanoracks’ first rideshare mission, dubbed “Eyries-1,” marks the Company’s entrance into the rideshare brokering market and the broadening of services for Nanoracks’ global customer base. This launch allowed Nanoracks to continue longstanding customer relationships and to foster new partnerships.
GHGSat Inc., a new customer to Nanoracks, provides global emissions monitoring services, currently for greenhouse gases and ultimately for air quality and other trace gases from a wide range of sources.
Nanoracks continued its tradition of deploying CubeSats for Spire by adding eight more LEMUR-2 satellites to Spire’s growing constellation. Spire is a leading data analytics company with the world’s largest earth observation constellation of satellites that provide advanced weather data, maritime analytics, and aircraft tracking.
Nanoracks is pleased to help enable both GHGSat and Spire’s goals in orbit, leveraging space access to make tangible progress to major challenges faced on Earth today.
“It was so exciting being part of the first completely dedicated smallsat rideshare mission launched by SpaceX, and we look forward to being a long-term provider of access to these types of flights,” says External Payloads Manager, Tristan Prejean. “Now our customers can get the same level of customer service they know from our Space Station missions, but they have the flexibility to choose between the Space Station, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus, and SpaceX rideshare launches. We’re a one-stop shop for any orbital destination.”
Leaf Space Reaches €10 Million Funding
JANUARY 2021 – Leaf Space, the Italian ground segment as-a-service company focused on microsatellites, announced it has completed its Series A financing round of €5 million, bringing its total funding to €10 million. A contribution of €2 million came from Primo Space, the investment fund of Primomiglio SGR focused on investments in highly innovative companies in the space industry. The other €3 million of investment were between Whysol Investments, acting as lead investor, and RedSeed Ventures, an early-stage investor of the company that had already joined the equity round last spring.
Leaf Space will use the funding to further develop its ground segment services for microsatellite operators in the NewSpace economy and globally scale up its business. During the first trimester of 2021, the company plans to grow its operational ground stations from eight to 11 by deploying and activating stations in Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia. At the end of 2021, the company expects to have a total of 15 operational ground stations for its multi-customer Leaf Line service. In addition, the company will provide several other ground stations to its swiss client Astrocast, using the dedicated Leaf Key ground segment service.
Jonata Puglia, CEO and co-founder of Leaf Space said: “This is a fantastic achievement for Leaf Space. In a short space of time, Leaf Space has become an industry name and a key player in the NewSpace economy. It has shown to be capable of providing excellent ground segment services to satellite operators, from launch and early orbit phase (LEOP) all the way to decommissioning, but also in supporting launch vehicle operators. Having concluded this successful investment round shows the relative resilience of the sector, despite the ongoing pandemic, and allows the company to continue with its strong and swift development plan.
Is the Mobility Value Chain Collapsing?
An oversupply of bandwidth, infrastructure, and COVID is driving a wave of consolidations. In the last 18 months, ViaSat, Intelsat, and Marlink have made significant acquisitions.
The introduction of operator managed services which, through the sale of megabits, has resulted in additional pressure, collapsing barriers, and allowing new companies with streamlined business models to enter the market. The new players don't need to own, maintain and staff teleports and NOCs, and they are not burdened by long-term capacity contracts.
New companies like K4 Mobility and Blue C Mobile are finding a market hungry for their new services. K4 buys megabits from Intelsat, SES, and Inmarsat and uses AI to choose the appropriate network based on a ship’s position. It also offers a unique smartphone application that allows users to control their accounts and network.
Another newcomer, Singapore-based, Blue C Mobile, buys megabits from Intelsat and provides a low-cost antenna and a pricing plan that competes favorably with Inmarsat's high-cost L-Band service. Expect these kinds of companies to thrive as economic headwinds continue to buffet the established players.
In response to the turmoil, legacy integrators acquire companies that provide runways to new markets or harbor new high-value, proprietary products and services. Viasat’s RigNet acquisition is a prime example.
Through the merger, the company gained entry into the energy industry and access to RigNet’s Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Security capabilities. At a $220 million purchase price, RigNet was a bargain.
Also notable, Marlink’s recent buyout of ITC and its acquisition of a majority position in Omni Access opened channels into the energy and Mega Yacht markets. All of these new corporate entities face hard-hit markets.
Cruise and energy markets have declined precipitously. Demand for bandwidth is down 50% as ships sit offshore in “hot standby” mode. The offshore oil and gas segments remain stagnant, punished by the pandemic induced demand reduction.
At the same time, Cruise activity could ramp up by mid-Q3. A resumption in travel will slowly boost oil prices but is unlikely to result in a rapid recovery. Outside of the maritime and energy sectors. The aero market has its own story.
In commercial aero, a drop in passenger traffic and flight cancellations have combined with passengers' ongoing reluctance to pay for IFC to create a chaotic and difficult market. COVID-driven flight cancellations with minimal passenger loads have nearly wiped out the demand for commercial inflight Wi-Fi.
Despite the market weakness, Intelsat made a major play to enter the market and was later followed by Inmarsat, who partnered with Hughes to secure Jupiter satellite capacity. That means there will be three major integrated service suppliers – Intelsat, Viasat, and Inmarsat, competing for the cash-strapped airlines' business. That may not be the end of it.
The Intelsat and Inmarsat moves have created the need for Panasonic Avionics and Global Eagle to merge with a satellite operator. Should that occur, the commercial side of the business will be even more competitive. What could be worse than so many companies struggling to sell services to the cash strapped airlines?
As the commercial airline business's battle becomes more acute, we expect that inflight connectivity providers will shift their focus to the business jet market. That’s where we believe the next wave of acquisitions will occur.
Unlike the commercial airline segment, where profitability is yet to be proven, the business jet market is lucrative and remains relatively unaffected by the COVID-induced crisis.
Senior executives are opting to fly private, both for health reasons and convenience. While the market for high-speed broadband is currently limited to the largest business jets, the emergence of a small, lightweight phased array antenna could open the mid-sized and small jet segment for satellite broadband. That makes companies like Satcom Direct and others with channels business jet market attractive. In particular, ATG provider SmartSky would be an ideal acquisition candidate as it is likely to emerge as a major competitor to Gogo. The owner of both satellite and ATG capabilities would be a potent competitor.
Even as the COVID crisis eases and travel starts to resume, maritime and aero mobility business models will continue to evolve. A new business model will erode the old Value Chain as the largest players will participate not only as utilities but as integrators and purveyors of new high-value hardware and software solutions.
The alteration of the mobility Value Chain will be absolute. The huge oversupply of satellite capacity, duplication of infrastructure, and technology advancements will alter the Value Chain, and the changes will be long-lasting.
- Alan Gottlieb
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Gilat's Future in IFC, NGSO, Cellular Backhaul & 5G
Hit hard by the global pandemic and the associated decline in the inflight connectivity, Gilat, like many companies, has suffered through a wrenching decline. Yet, through the aero market contraction and the abandonment of its merger with Comtech, Gilat has endured. It's a smart company with tough, determined people and a portfolio of innovative communications technologies.
It's recently achieved some notable successes, winning Cellular Backhaul contracts in the United States, Mexico and the Philippines, advancing its 5G technology, strengthening its presence in the NGSO market, as well as proving its new phased array aero antenna.
To find out how Gilat has fared through this tumultuous time and how it sees its future and the industry's, we met with it's newly appointed CEO, Adi Sfadia.
SMW: Adi, 2020 has been a difficult year for all. How has it affected the satellite industry and Gilat, in particular?
2020 was a challenging and difficult year for the satellite industry. COVID's impact was severe and global yet varied depending on the industry segment.
The Mobility market was the most heavily hit as the world almost came to a stand-still. The consumer broadband market was hardly affected and grew in some geographies due to increased broadband usage from working, learning, and simply spending more time at home. As the reliance on the Internet increased, the lack of high-speed Internet in outlying areas accentuated the digital divide.
Not everyone in the rural areas can afford satellite broadband, but many have 4G smart phones that they can use to reach the Internet. Gilat is the world leader in mobile satellite Cellular Backhaul and continues to support Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) worldwide in their efforts to expand their networks to rural areas. We expect governments will continue to invest in mobile network expansions as well as broadband VSAT to deliver e-learning and e-health to all of their citizens, regardless of geography.
Gilat has entered the pandemic very strong financially but still got hurt as did most of the industry companies. However, we learned to conduct business during the pandemic and have seen some very significant accomplishments, especially in the second half of last year.
We landed multi-million-dollar contracts to expand cellular coverage in U.S.,Mexico and the Philippines and the U.S. military Tactical Communications Program. We equipped hundreds of ships and cruise vessels with satellite communications, and just recently successfully tested our Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA) on Inmarsat's Global Xpress - all despite the restrictions imposed on us by the pandemic.
SMW: The pandemic severely hit the mobility industry and especially inflight connectivity; How is IFC weathering this storm? When do you expect the business to recover?
Inflight connectivity (IFC) was by far one of the satellite industry segments to suffer the most. So, naturally, we were affected. While COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on travel and aviation in the short-term, in the future, we expect it to grow in importance. Passengers will continue to demand reliable high-speed Internet connections during travel.
There are indications that inflight Wi-Fi will be free, resulting in increased take-up rates and providing a strong tailwind to the industry, and to Gilat.
Gilat is ready to address the expected surge in demand. We will continue to work with our customers, including Gogo Commercial Aviation (now part of Intelsat) and Honeywell, to help them meet the connectivity demands. Outside of the U.S. aviation markets, we are also committed to helping our partners grow their businesses.
On the China front, we achieved a promising milestone. Gilat's partners China Satcom and FTS, a leading Chinese system integrator, opened-up the Chinese Ka-band market for inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC).
Gilat’s aero modem, Taurus, is powering IFEC service to China’s Qingdao Airlines, the first to use the service. A Qingdao Airlines’ A 320 aircraft is now providing SATCOM-based IFEC commercial service for the first time, after a very successful flight from Qingdao to Chengdu on July 7, 2020. This aircraft is the first one retrofitted with a Ka-band IFEC system, and we expect that the full, 35 aircraft fleet of Qingdao Airlines to be equipped by the end of 2021.
Due to the global population's vaccination, we are optimistic that the aviation business will resume later this year or early in 2022.
SMW: We are seeing consolidation and teaming in the IFC market. Intelsat bought Gogo’s commercial aviation business. Inmarsat and Hughes are partnering in North America. How does all this affect the industry and Gilat in particular?
The consolidation and teaming trend in the IFC space has been ongoing, even before COVID-19. The market has been long due for consolidation given the challenging business cases it faces, stemming from passenger resistance to paying for low service quality on some existing offerings. Ultimately, we believe consolidation will lower connectivity costs for the airlines and enable them to provide free Wi-Fi, which will drive-up usage and take-up rates.
As for Intelsat's acquisition of Gogo commercial aviation business, we have had strong relationships with both Gogo and Intelsat and expect to continue working closely with Intelsat going forward.
As for the partnership in North America of Inmarsat and Hughes, it's been long awaited. Without U.S satellite capacity, Inmarsat could not realistically address the North American market with GX on its own. Given Hughes Ka-band capacity availability in North America, they are the natural partners. This cooperation, too, is in line with the ongoing industry consolidation.
SMW: Do you see an interest in the use of NGSOs in the airline connectivity business?
NGSOs bring several advantages to this industry, including a huge capacity influx that will lower bandwidth prices and can help catalyze IFC adoption.
In addition, NGSO satellite constellations introduce an advantage of operation at higher elevation angles.
Unlike GEOs, with LEOs aircraft can traverse polar routes without signal loss. At lower altitude, LEOs can close a satellite link to small business jets equipped with small flat panel phased array terminals.
For thousands of smaller jets that cannot fit a tail-mounted antenna (TMA), NGSOs and phased array antennas together offer the promise of broadband connectivity.
While ESA terminal pricing may be a barrier for entry into the low-cost home market, that's not a major issue for aero terminals, since planes are already equipped with comparable priced tracking antennas for GEO satellite constellations.
SMW: Can you update us on your new phased array aero antenna? When can we expect to see commercial installations? I understand the antenna is targeted at commercial jets. Will you also develop another antenna for business jets?
Gilat’s ESA technology enables modular building blocks to support larger antennas for commercial aviation and smaller antennas for Business Jets.
We are continuing to advance our new phased array aero antennas and recently completed a successful integration and live testing with Inmarsat’s operational Global Xpress (GX) network. This year, we will continue with flight testing demonstrations as part of the CleanSky2 development program and our partner Airbus DS.
We are currently pursuing several aero antenna business opportunities. Still, we estimate that commercial installations on narrow and wide-body aircraft will take a few more years to mature.
Therefore, most of our initial focus is shorter term business jet opportunities, which require a smaller form-factor ESA terminal and cannot fit tail mounted antennas.
SMW: Gilat was chosen to be the provider of the ground segment for the O3b mPOWER constellation, how is that progressing? Are you engaged with the other NGSO players?
The project is progressing according to schedule and we have expanded the partnership with SES with a follow-on multi-million dollar order for high-speed modems. The modems will deliver multi-gigabit throughput, targeting high-end services over the constellation.
We have enlarged our footprint in this market with a recently closed deal by our subsidiary Wavestream. We received an award estimated at more than $50 M from a leading satellite operator to support the gateways for a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellite constellation.
Furthermore, we believe that we are well-positioned to win additional NGSO business as the opportunities mature.
SMW: Gilat has just announced major Cellular Backhaul deals in the US, the Philippines and in Mexico. Can you tell us more about these projects?
Gilat's strategy of providing the cellular backhaul over satellite solution as a managed service has proven successful and has brought substantial contract renewals, extensions, and expansions during 2020, in the United Stated, Mexico and the Philippines.
We base our success on offering complete managed service solutions, including satellite space segment, field installation & maintenance, and remote hub and network operation. An end-to-end managed-service solution allows the MNOs to focus on their core competency and leave the satellite transport to the satellite experts.
As an example, in the Philippines, Gilat was awarded a multi-million-dollar contract from Globe for a significant project expansion. Our robust end-to-end solution enables Globe to meet its goal of providing high-quality service throughout the country.
Gilat also works closely with its partners who deliver the service to the MNOs, and Gilat provides the network and VSATs. This was the case with the recent multi-million dollar awards by our partners Hispasat and AXESS, to enable them to provide service to Mexico's important MNOs.
SMW: Do NGSO’s have a role in Cellular Backhaul , or will it remain a GEO satellite market?
Cellular Backhaul over satellite is a critical solution for mobile network operators, and we expect both GEO and NGSO solutions.
NGSO constellations, such as SES mPOWER bring abundant global capacity with lower latency, and they will play a role in Cellular Backhaul.
However, due to the initial higher cost of NGSO terminals, we anticipate that NGSO based Cellular Backhaul will be used first at aggregation points that require very high Gigabit connections. At the same time, GEO services will continue to be used at sites that need just hundreds of Megabits.
For example, we expect GEO services to continue to be an excellent choice for emergency and disaster recovery use cases, due to their ubiquity and simplicity of operation.
In addition, we are also working together with our satellite operator partners to leverage the new NGSO assets to deliver new additional services to our customers.
For example, Gilat's next-generation VSAT platform is multi-orbit and can enable mobile operators to utilize NGSO and GEO services.
Ultimately, we envision a hybrid service scenario comprised of satellite connectivity with NGSO as the primary connection and GEO as a backup. In another scenario, we foresee NGSO used for data and GEO to deliver value-added services such as 5G TV.
SMW: Other modem manufacturers are adapting their hub and modem infrastructures to run 5G protocols. What is Gilat doing to adapt its Sky Edge II infrastructure to the 5G world?
Gilat is leading the Cellular Backhaul market with 80% market-share for 4G/LTE installation worldwide, and now paving the way with 5G. We divide our approach to 5G into two initiatives: supporting 5G high-rate traffic and adapting 5G technologies on the network level.
To support 5G high-rate traffic, Gilat recently released its flagship Capricorn PLUS VSAT, enabling half a Gigabit of concurrent speeds required for data-intensive applications such as 5G backhaul.
We have also demonstrated carrying 5G traffic with 400/100 Mbps with outstanding performance to and from a 5G handset. The live demonstration took place with two MNOs over Thaicom’s IPSTAR GEO satellite.
Using a 5G handset, a large number of applications were tested with excellent results including: Browsing, Speedtest, YouTube 4K, VoLTE, ViLTE, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and even communication with a drone providing via a live video stream.
The tests were done with several 5G architecture options, including Standalone (SA) and Non-Standalone (NSA), using Gilat’s Capricorn PLUS with an adaptation of Gilat's patented GTP acceleration, at times showing results better than the terrestrial connection.
To support high data rate 5G traffic at the network level, we offer a wide range of new technologies that can benefit the satellite world. Gilat is already supporting SDN capabilities and virtualization in our X-Architecture. We are also working on using 5G core technologies in our X-Architecture to improve user experience and network support for multiple verticals simultaneously.
SMW: What are the implications of the failed merger with Comtech? How will the failure to merge affect Gilat’s business in the future?
We believed the merger between the companies would bring mutual benefits to Gilat and Comtech. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made the timing of this merger agreement particularly challenging. As you stated, we reached a mutual agreement with Comtech to terminate the merger, which was the best outcome for both companies. Comtech paid us $70 M for that cancellation, which, after deducting associated costs, was paid as a dividend to our shareholders.
During the merger negotiations, Gilat continued to operate as a standalone business as it had regulatory obligations to do so. Even though the merger required management's attention and a small number of employees to support the effort, most of the management and all of the R&D and sales employees continued their focus on driving the company's business forward.
As a result, we did not see any fall off of customers. On the contrary, in some parts of the world, the fact that we will not be a U.S. held company was welcomed by our customers, as that fact may have hurt their ability to do business with us going forward.
Today, following the merger's cancellation, all of the company's management is focused on growing our business, and I believe we have the right management and employees to do so.
With its Newly Appointed CEO, Adi Sfadia
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About Adi Sfadia:
Adi Sfadia serves as Gilat's Chief Executive Officer as of November 2020.
Prior to that Mr. Sfadia served as Gilat's Interim Chief Executive Officer as of July 2020 and before that, as Gilat's Chief Financial Officer since November 2015.
Prior to joining Gilat Mr. Sfadia served as CFO of Starhome Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Fortissimo Capital, from January 2013.
From 2008 to 2013, Mr. Sfadia served as CFO of Radvision Ltd. (previously traded on NASDAQ and TASE).
From 2004 until 2008, Mr. Sfadia served as Radvision’s Corporate Controller and Vice President of Finance. Prior to that, Mr. Sfadia served in several senior financial positions in Israeli companies, including five years in a public accounting position with Kost Forer Gabbay & Kasierer, a member of Ernst & Young Global.
Mr. Sfadia holds a B.A. in Business Administration and an M.B.A. (magna cum laude) from The College of Management in Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion, and is a Certified Public Accountant in Israel.
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FreeFall Aerospace's Phased Array: An Antenna Like No Other
With FreeFall CEO Doug Stetson...
The quest to develop a low-cost electronically steerable antenna (ESA) has been an elusive one. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars invested by over a dozen companies, a viable, low-cost antenna has yet to emerge.
For years, satellite industry engineers have battled the laws of physics, power consumption, heat, and cost in their struggle to build the ultimate antenna. They have employed PCBs impregnated with thousands of chips, and metamaterial designs - all resulting in high-cost solutions.
We at Satellite Mobility World are pleased to present a unique and simple solution to the ESA challenge, the FreeFall Aerospace All-SkyTM spherical antenna. To find out more about this unusual antenna, we met with CEO Doug Stetson.
SMW: Can you tell us about the origins of FreeFall?
Doug Stetson (DS): Tucson Arizona based FreeFall Aerospace and its antenna are the products of Space exploration programs.
The inventor of our unique technology, Dr. Chris Walker, is a Radio Astronomer. My background is an expansive career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working on such bold Space exploratory programs as Cassini, Galileo, and Mars exploration.
We can find the origins of the FreeFall antenna in derivations of Chris Walker's signal detector technology. Although developed for Radio Astronomy, we realized that it had enormous potential when applied to satellite communication. So, in late 2016 we incorporated FreeFall to develop and commercialize the technology.
SMW: FreeFall’s antenna incorporates a spherical rather than a parabolic reflector – a design rarely seen in the satellite industry. What advantages does it have over conventional parabolic and phased arrays?
(DS): Most high-gain satellite antennas are parabolic dishes or flat panel phased arrays. Instead, the FreeFall antenna uses a spherical reflecting surface.
Unlike a parabolic antenna, which has a very narrow field of view and must be precisely pointed to achieve high-gain, a spherical reflector has the widest possible field of view, dramatically simplifying the acquisition and tracking of a satellite or ground station.
A characteristic of a spherical reflector is that it focuses energy on a focal line rather than a focal point as in a parabolic antenna. The Arecibo Radio Telescope is the prime example, and in that case, beam steering was accomplished by physically moving the feed along a semi-circular track.
That’s a complex mechanical process, and if you can avoid it, there’s a tremendous saving in mass, power, and operational complexity for both Space-borne and ground-based antennas. That's our innovation. Instead of physically moving the line feed, we do it electronically.
We have developed a “phased array line feed," that allows us to provide wide area coverage at high-gain without requiring any physical motion of the antenna and without moving parts.
Our All-SkyTM antenna offers the beam steering capability of a flat panel phased array, the high-gain of a parabolic dish, without the complexity, high power, and high cost of an electronically steered flat panel phased array. The antenna has all the advantages of an ESA except flatness, and it’s simple to build and inexpensive to manufacture.
SMW: Can you tell us more about the "phased array line feed?"
(DS): The line feed invented and patented by Dr. Walker operates on the same basic principle as a flat panel phased array. A major difference is that it can utilize the reflector to provide high-gain, instead of using the thousands of individual antenna elements as in a flat panel array.
Using the phased array line feed, we steer the beam toward the reflector surface. This allows us to use just a few phase shifters rather than hundreds, which takes much less power.
SMW: I understand that you initially intended the antenna for use in a CubeSat. Can you tell us about that application?
(DS): The spherical shape is a huge advantage in Space applications. A sphere is a natural shape that any inflated structure strives to achieve. So it is much simpler and lower risk than trying to create a more complex shape like a parabola.
For use in a CubeSat, the Mylar spherical antenna can compress down to a minimal volume and deploy to create an antenna aperture of a half meter or even up to two or three meters. The ability to create a very lightweight, large aperture in a simple manner, combined with electronic beam steering, is the breakthrough that can finally provide “big data" from small spacecraft.
SMW: Can the antenna also be used on the ground?
(DS): For a ground station, we take advantage of the same principles without an inflatable system. Instead, we can use a rigid hemisphere, like a punch bowl. You place it on the ground, and without ever having to move it, you can electronically steer the beam at high-gain around large angles.
In a ground-based antenna, we typically incorporate three or more line feeds to switch between them to maximize coverage. Each line feed covers 40-50 degrees of the sky, so by using them in a series, we can provide high-gain coverage, with a scan angle equal or better than any flat panel phased arrays - all with no moving parts and at a fraction of the cost.
We also have a concept for an inflatable ground antenna that can be carried in a soldier’s backpack and inflates like a beach ball with the same line feed system inside. Once again, this is much simpler than other inflatable antennas that still rely on parabolic reflectors.
SMW: What about antenna performance?
(DS): Our approach can be customized for virtually any frequency or antenna size. We have built antennas from L-Band up through Ka-band in reflector sizes from one-half meter to three meters. The on-axis gain for a spherical reflector is equivalent to that of a parabolic reflector, or a flat panel phased array.
Our off-axis performance is much better than a parabola and equal to or better than an active or passive flat panel phased array antenna. When you consider data return per dollar, we think our antenna is superior. The Kymeta ESA sells for $30,000. Our goal is to deliver the All-SkyTM for a fraction of that.
SMW: Can you tell us more about the testing, and has the antenna been tested in Space?
(DS): We did a near-space test back in 2018 from 160,000 feet on a NASA high-altitude balloon and validated the concept, including the beam steering.
We have done many lab tests, including thermal vacuum testing, under an Air Force SBIR grant. We also tested a prototype at the Army Electronic Proving Ground near Tucson, Arizona. Using a rigid 2-meter hemisphere, we measured the true far-field patterns of selected states of the cross-feed antenna system.
We were able to determine patterns with good cross-polarization ratios and side-lobe ratios.
Our first opportunity to test the antenna in Space will be on a U of A Catsat project scheduled for late 2021. CatSat is a 6U CubeSat project led by University of Arizona students. It will conduct some science experiments as well as demonstrate our inflatable antenna.
SMW: Is the antenna also suitable for mobility?
Yes, we can use our All-SkyTM antenna on any moving vehicle, including ships, HUMVEES, buses, etc.
To maintain the lock on a satellite when a vehicle is in motion, we use an inertial measurement unit that senses any physical movement of the antenna’s mounting. It can almost instantaneously feed the movement into the electronic beam steering algorithms to maintain a satellite lock when a vehicle is in motion. We have already discussed using the antenna with the military for “Data on the Move.”
SMW: To use the antenna in a mobility environment on ship and aircraft and track GEOs, MEOs, and LEOs, you will need to integrate your antenna with major manufacturers’ satellite modems. Are you working with any modem manufacturers at this time?
(DS): That's our next stage of development.
SMW: How have you funded the venture? How much capital have you raised so far, and what is your next step in the fund-raising process? Who are the investors?
The Office of Naval Research funded the initial concept studies. We have since seen investment from the UA Venture Capital of Tucson and a several angel investors. Combined with our Founder's investment in the company, we have raised around $5 Million to date.
SMW: Let’s talk about markets and applications. The market for inflatable antennas in Space is relatively small. The real opportunity is for a low cost, electronically steerable antenna in mobility applications and LEO/MEO ground systems. Is your spherical antenna a viable alternative offering equivalent performance at a much lower cost?
(DS): The All-SkyTM antenna has unique advantages that make it appropriate for many markets. Leveraging its lack of moving parts, high-gain at low power and potentially very low manufacturing costs, it could replace conventional stabilized VSAT antennas on ships, and in land mobility applications. It could be used virtually anywhere flatness is not a limitation, even in the LEO Internet-to-home market.
Both our inflatable satellite antenna and our All-SkyTM antenna represent a leap beyond costly and complex flat panel phased array antennas. We think it is a hugely disruptive technology suitable for large markets, and we’re excited to bring it to reality.
Doug Stetson is the CEO of FreeFall Aerospace. It's an early-stage company developing innovative antenna technology for satellite communications. Before founding FreeFall,
Doug spent nearly 30 years at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a systems engineer and program manager.
After leaving JPL in 2008, Doug established a consulting practice and was the project manager for the LightSail-1 mission that successfully deployed and tested a solar sail in Earth orbit.
Doug holds a B.S. in Physics and M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University.
He is a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and the JPL Award for Excellence in Leadership.
Dr. Chris Walker, Co-founder, Chief Scientist and VP for R&D
Chris Walker has over 30 years experience in industry and academia developing state-of-the-art antenna systems. In addition to his role at FreeFall, Chris is professor of Astronomy, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering at the University of Arizona, and is the inventor of the core technology that led to the formation of FreeFall Aerospace.
Chris has led numerous observing campaigns in Antarctica and is Principal Investigator of the GUSTO mission, a NASA Small Explorer mission set for balloon launch in late 2021.
Dr. Walker was also PI of the successful NASA Stratospheric THz Observatory, among other projects, and is the recipient of the “2018 Inventor of the Year” award from the University of Arizona.
Chris was a Millikan Fellow at Caltech and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.
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An Interview with QuadSAT CEO Joakim Espeland
For antenna manufacturers and installers, testing and calibration procedures are expensive, tedious, and time-consuming.
For years, manufacturers have had to shoulder the costs of test ranges and laboratories, and installers have had to move ships and aircraft to test and calibrate antennas. QuadSAT has developed a uniquely innovative solution. It uses a satellite simulator flown on a drone.
Through this simple and elegant solution, the company eliminates the need for a test range and makes it easy for installers to calibrate antennas in the field. Its solution saves time and reduces costs. To find out more, we met with QuadSAT CEO Joakim Espeland.
SMW: How did the idea for QuadSAT originate?
Joakim Espeland (J E): The idea developed early in my career. At that time, I installed and calibrated antennas on offshore service vessels in the oil and gas industries. It was a tedious and time-consuming process, involving sailing the vessels around the harbor, calibrating and re-calibrating the antenna to assure pointing accuracy. As drones became more mainstream, the idea of mounting a satellite simulator on a drone looked promising. I developed the concept, and it became the topic of my university thesis.
After we founded QuadSAT, in 2019, GVF (Global VSAT Forum) invited us to CommunicAsia to make a presentation. At that time, major satellite operators adopted SOMAP, the Satellite Operators Minimum Antenna Performance requirements. The requirements allowed us to develop a testing platform compatible with VSAT satellite networks.
SMW: How is antenna testing done today, and how do you improve upon the existing testing and calibration processes?
(J E): They’re done on an outdoor test range or indoor laboratory located at a university or research institute during the product development and manufacturing stages. It’s a technical process and can cost an antenna manufacturer as much as $100,000.
At both the factory and in the field, our drone solution has numerous advantages. For the manufacturer, we save the costs incurred at laboratories and test ranges, and at installation, we can avoid the need to move a vessel or aircraft. Because we can also adapt virtually to any location on earth, we can guarantee proper antenna calibration wherever the ship or aircraft travels. That's a feature is unique to the QuadSAT solution.
SMW: Can you give take us through the testing and calibration process?
(J E): Upon arrival at the testing site, the technician determines his exact position using differential GPS. Next, they connect a spectrum analyzer to the laptop running our software and to the antenna and launch the drone. When the drone reaches an altitude of 300 feet, it's moved to simulate the ship's or aircraft's position at different locations. Our software then processes the data to reveal the antenna pattern.
Once you have the pattern, you can see to a very high accuracy exactly where the antenna is pointing. If you have a fixed antenna, you can adjust it manually using tools. If it’s an auto-pointing or stabilized antenna, our software can provide the antenna offset value, which can then be input to the antenna via the manufacturer’s antenna configuration software. That completes the calibration process. Testing and calibration are done again at antenna installation and maintenance intervals – typically annually.
SMW: Have the satellite operators approved your testing method?
(J E): We are now comparing our test results with approved testing facilities. When we have demonstrated comparable accuracy, we expect the satellite operators to certify QuadSAT – sometime in 2021.
SMW: Can you also do phased array as well as stabilized and auto-acquiring antennas?
(J E): We are currently working on a phased array product and can apply the technique to the receive chain, but not the transmit; the technology is slightly different. However, given our accelerated development process, we expect to offer phased array calibration in the product’s subsequent versions.
SMW: How do you deliver the service? Do you sell the drones and equipment to antenna manufacturers or satellite service integrators, or do you perform the service yourselves?
(J E): Today, we send out our team to perform testing on customer’s sites. In addition, we are training satellite operators, antenna manufacturers, and integrators to do the testing and calibration on their own, making the technology even more accessible. Ultimately, we expect most satellite technicians to be equipped with our drone kit alongside common tools like a spectrum analyzer. Our objective is to reduce testing and calibration costs by as much as ninety percent.
We have developed a training program and plan to train and license the equipment to as many users as possible. We also intend to become a part of SATPROF, the education system for antenna technicians in the satellite industry developed by the GVF.
SMW: Can you describe the business model?
(J E): QuadSAT offers both an on-demand testing service or the provision of the full turnkey drone system, enabling a customer to perform measurements on their own.
We will offer a premiere program that includes the drone, flight and analysis software and a cloud subscription.
Depending on the number of tests performed, we plan to offer a monthly or charge-by-the-test pricing plan.
SMW: How large is the market?
(J E): The largest market, by far, is the re-calibration market. It consists of thirty-five-thousand technicians that travel the world installing satellite antennas. Ultimately, there could be thousands of technicians who use our testing and calibration technology. While our primary focus is on the satellite industry, we believe there are opportunities in the defense, automotive, wireless, broadcast, and governmental markets.
SMW: How will you penetrate the market?
(J E): You will recall that we are currently a service provider, but as we miniaturize the drones and develop a fully integrated kit for users in the field, the market will rapidly expand. Initially, our target is around 100 satellite operators and research institutes, radar manufacturers, and universities. Next, we will sell to the antenna manufacturers and ultimately to satellite service integrators. Beyond maritime, more and more aircraft, commercial, business, and military jets are equipped with satellite broadband. So, we see that as a big market.
SMW: How has COVID affected your rollout?
(J E): In the short-term, the travel restrictions associated with COVID have curtailed our ability to work as a service provider to satellite operators. However, it’s allowed us more time to devote to R&D activities, which has helped advance our technical capabilities.
SMW: What about funding? Where do you stand in the capital-raising process?
(J E): To date, we have raised around three million Euros in seed funding, with a substantial portion from Seraphim Capital. In Q4 2021, we plan a series “A” offering to raise around ten million Euros in additional funding.
Antenna Testing & Calibration by Drone: Innovation in the Air
"Ultimately, when smaller and less inexpensive drones become available, we anticipate that most satellite installation technicians will carry our kit, and it will be as common a tool as a spectrum analyzer."
Joakim Espeland is the CEO and co-founder of QuadSAT, a Danish company that has developed brand new tools and techniques for testing and calibrating satellite antennas.
Joakim and his co-founder Andrian Buchi began the company as a University project where they explored how drones could be used for satellite antenna testing.
Prior to starting QuadSAT, Joakim acquired a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from VIA University and worked with Global Eagle Entertainment and EMC (Expanding Mobile Connectivity) where he was a satellite technician.
For More Information...
There are many mobility related satellite industry events, most of which have gone virtual or been postponed due to COVID 19. At the moment, the only "live" shows/conferences in the immediate future are PTC in Hawaii and Sat 2021.
****RESCHEDULED: Asia Pacific Maritime: Singapore: Live Show 16-18 March 2022:
Biggest maritime show in Asia.
*****SeaTrade Cruise Global, Miami: RESCHEDULED: 12-15 April 2021: The Cruise Industry is a huge user of VSAT services. making this show an important venue. It should not be missed - an important event for satellite service suppliers.
****Global Connected Aircraft: RESCHEDULED
June 2-3, 2021 Denver: A popular conference address in commercial aircraft connectivity.
****SMM: Hamburg, Germany' RESCHEDULED February 2-5 2021: A must attend for those interested in VSAT use in the cargo segments.
*** PTC 2021: Honolulu, Hawaii: January 17-21, 2021
Notable gathering of Pacific and Asian companies . NOW VIRTUAL.
**** Satellite 2021: Washington D.C.: RESCHEDULED: July 26-29, 2021 The year's most important Trade Show/Conference Event. Great for an industry overview. Many good break away sessions on specific topics.
Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events
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