Could Relativity Space be the next SpaceX? While there are many parallels between the two launchers, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis and his team are looking to create their own piece of history by bringing 3D printed rockets to the mainstream. Last year, Relativity emerged as a major player in the launch segment. They have increased their staff at a high rate, and signed launch deals with Telesat and MU Space that could arguably validate their technological approach to launching rockets. Relativity Space is developing the first aerospace platform to integrate machine learning, software, and robotics with metal 3D printing technology to build and launch rockets and other aerospace products in days instead of years.
Ellis is also a contender for our Satellite Executive of the Year, and one of our youngest ever nominees for the award. When Ellis speaks at industry events, it’s hard not to recall a young Elon Musk generating excitement around SpaceX a decade ago. Ellis and Relativity are creating a similar excitement for their innovative approach to manufacturing launch vehicles.
Telesat is Canada’s flagship satellite company. In Dan Goldberg, they have one of the most experienced CEOs of all the big operators, who have all changed their CEOs fairly frequently in recent years. Goldberg, who became president and CEO of Telesat in 2006, has led major changes at the company. His most aggressive move has been into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), which will see the operator likely launch a constellation of approximately 300 satellites.
Out of all of the big operators, Telesat has one of the most ambitious Non-Geostationary (NGSO) strategies. While SES acquired assets through its acquisition of O3b Networks, and built on that, Telesat is taking a different approach — building a new constellation from scratch. It is an exciting time to be part of Telesat, as it looks to make good on these ambitions. Telesat celebrated its 50-year anniversary last year. Its future could be even more exciting than its past, if Goldberg’s masterplan succeeds.
Lockheed Martin, one of the giants of the U.S. space industry, has been at the forefront of developing Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D printing, and cybersecurity capabilities. Lockheed Martin’s AI developments encompass both on-ground and on-orbit applications. These span predictive maintenance of spacecraft, anomaly detection, human-machine augmentation assistance, adaptive cyber protection, and space modeling and simulation. The company has been increasing its investment to continue bringing forward innovations in AI and autonomy that can be adopted and scaled to tackle complex, far-reaching and rapidly evolving challenges.
The company also aims to slash lead times and the cost of satellite manufacturing by 50%. One of the company’s key tools for achieving this goal is additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. The company has been one of the most progressive about bringing these capabilities into the satellite manufacturing process. Lockheed Martin has been a part of the satellite landscape for a long time, but it has not been afraid to bring in new technologies and advances quicker than its peers.
Antennas are one of the hottest technologies within the satellite industry. As satellite operators move more into new enterprise markets such as connected transportation, the onus will be on antenna providers to provide the tech that powers these services. ThinKom has been one of the standout performers in this sector, and working for ThinKom means providing the tech that powers services for the likes of Delta Airlines, Qatar Airways, and the Indonesian Federal Police.
The company recently unveiled a new solution for efficient and effective land-based gateways designed to accommodate current and next generation LEO and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellations. The new gateway concept, which ThinKom describes as an “array of arrays” aims to provide a superior alternative to the large “antenna farms” of parabolic dishes which have traditionally been used to support GEO satellites. The company, which will celebrate 20 years of existence in 2020, is beginning to make its mark in this most competitive of fields, signing impressive deals with OneWeb and SES as it looks to build on its promises.
Hiber is one of the most hip and talked-about startups in the new European space scene. It even won recognition from Wired as one of Europe’s hottest startups, as well as an innovation award from Accenture.
Why all the excitement? To start, Hiber aims to build “Hiberband,” which it claims is the world’s first Low Power Global Area Network (LPGAN). It uses tiny nano satellites at a low orbit of just 600km above Earth. The company has ambitions to be the “future of Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity” and wants to make rural, remote and industrial connectivity a reality. It also wants to help companies monitor remote fishing fleets, helping farmers find the perfect time to sow crops etc. Its current applications involve monitoring crops in Africa, groundwater in Australia, fishing vessels across the Pacific, carbon-free vehicles in Antarctica, rail cars in America, cattle in South America, beehives in Belgium, and even Dutch flowers — quite a list!
Capella Space’s constellation of small satellites employ space-based radar, beaming through darkness and cloud cover to gather the information companies need to make informed decisions. When fully deployed, Capella Space says it will offer hourly coverage of every point on Earth, rendered in sub-meter resolution, through a large constellation of radar satellites. Capella Space’s Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites, operating in the X-band, can see through clouds and in the dark, so the aim is provide information as and when it is needed. The company aims to make a difference in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure monitoring, as well as disaster recovery. Its mission is to make timely Earth observation an essential tool for commerce, conservation, and well-being. It is a laudable aim, which could have far reaching benefits for society and the economy as a whole.
This year, Capella Space will launch seven SAR satellites and start commercial operations. The company is fully funded to complete these objectives, with backing from multi-billion-dollar funds DCVC (Data Collective) and Spark Capital. Over the past year, Capella Space has entered deals with the National Reconnaissance Office and the U.S. Air Force. The company has also partnered with Inmarsat, Addvalue, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to task satellites in real-time and deliver SAR data via the AWS Ground Station network. The company claims it is the only Earth Observation (EO) company that can accept and task its satellites in real time and then deliver imagery to customers within about 30 minutes of collection.
It has often been said that the satellite industry plays in the niches and corners of the communication eco-system, providing services and connectivity to people and businesses where wireless can’t reach. However, the inexorable expansion of the wireless industry footprint has clearly put pressure on our industry. One satellite company is pushing back. Dish Network, led by the enigmatic Charlie Ergen, is attempting to gatecrash the U.S. 5G market in probably the most spectacular strategy seen in the industry in recent years.
The three-way deal involving Sprint, T-Mobile, and Dish places Dish front and center of the 5G revolution in the United States, making it the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the nation. Dish is now committed to launching a 5G broadband network capable of serving 70% of the U.S. population by June 2023. Ergen’s strategy is bold, but given his history of success, few would bet against him.
One of the most significant acquisitions of 2019 was ST Engineering’s purchase of Newtec, one of Europe’s legacy satellite companies. The merger created a technology powerhouse, incorporating elements from Asia, North America, and Europe. Bringing together iDirect and Newtec is also potentially huge for the industry, given ST’s position in Asia.
Tang Kum Chuen, president of satellite systems and electronics at ST Engineering recently told Via Satellite that incorporating both Newtec and iDirect technology will bring higher efficiency, better performance, and greater flexibility to serve a wide range of markets and emerging needs.
ST Engineering aims to develop the first universal, multi-access, multi-orbit platform that is able to harness bandwidth from any source and deliver a unified customer experience over a hybrid network. It also intends to leverage its air and sea mobility experience to expand into the land mobility market as part of its strategy to create new opportunities for customers.
Ursa Space Systems
One of the more exciting companies from the U.S. New Space scene is Ursa Space Systems. The company aggregates data from a network of radar satellites, fuses it with other data sources, and delivers proprietary analytic-based information and products to provide customers with alternative sources of market or business intelligence. To sell this service, Ursa employs a very different business model. The company was founded in 2014 and has wowed audiences with its unique approach of connecting people to information rich data derived from SAR. Ursa believes intuitive and easily accessible data and analytics from satellite technology can solve many of the world’s biggest questions and problems.
The company is an investor community darling, and has recently closed another round of funding. Its CEO Adam Maher is often talked about as one of new visionaries in our sector, as satellite companies catch up to build their own data-driven businesses.
There is no doubt that one of the major themes of this feature, and many others, is the emergence of satellites in EO and imaging markets. Data is very much seen as the new currency in our market. One of the companies synonymous with data value in this new era is Planet.
The company designs and builds its satellites in-house, which means it can bring the latest technology to its own satellites. It has complete vertical integration that enables it to respond quickly to customer needs. It has already received the trust of NASA, which frequently relies on data from Planet satellites. It has also signed a key partnership with Airbus, which will see the two companies provide customers with a range of global remote sensing data at multiple temporal and spatial resolutions, and collaborate on new analytic solutions for commercial markets.
In this time of climate emergency, as the whole world watches news stories involving extreme weather catastrophes, companies like Planet will only grow in significance. While ultimately, we will have to come up with answers to stop what seems like irreversible damage to our Earth, companies like Planet can play a key role in providing the key data that could help future generations. VS