Owning a satellite for full sovereign comms capability

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Owning a satellite for full sovereign comms capability

In our previous article about communications we discussed how space becomes an essential piece to the puzzle of defence, security, emergency response, and humanitarian and diplomatic efforts, giving global connectivity a crucial strategic role. With this comes a growing interest from different sovereign nations to have their data flow through their own networks and infrastructures. In a world where most networks are owned or operated directly and indirectly by a handful of countries, data sovereignty is a top-of-mind concern for independent states, naturally directing the flow of thought to the next question in line: to buy or to lease a satellite?

First, let’s make a stop at the landscape description of classic space. We’ve got an industry that is historically long-term and capital-intensive. Costs are measured in hundreds of millions of dollars, and lead times are typically measured in years. Technical deployment and market risks are generally kept to a minimum. Decisions that are made today typically manifest themselves in the capacity market approximately five years into the future. That said, things have been swiftly evolving.

As the New Space economy reigns its flags worldwide (and beyond), players in the space sector begin to catch up to some of the trends from the wider technology arena. The contrasts between the purchase of subscription services or leasing satellites (OpEx) and the purchase of hardware and making long-term investments (CapEx) come to the forefront.

Adding extra beam for an extended perspective

It is being widely said that in the satellite leasing market, the cost structures and business models are more beneficial for customers, providing them with the holy grail – flexibility. State-of-the-art capacity can be added year over year, while classic space manufactures, who are selling their satellites, need to wait around five years to upgrade their technology; and in general, their satellites are more prone to turn outdated and less efficient in a few years.
This was holding true up until the moment when software-first satellites have been introduced. They don’t come empty-handed but carry a bunch of benefits:  

  • built-in autonomous orbital capabilities that enable greater efficiency, improved lead times, and reduced costs;
  • spacecraft becomes modular and configurable, adapting to market developments and enhancing onboard capabilities over time;
  • improved responsiveness for the most time-sensitive applications;
  • the list goes on.  

The market has recognised that adapting satellite missions to changing customers and their needs has become increasingly crucial in an uncertain environment. A software-first satellite can be reconfigured whilst in orbit allowing to update missions over time and adjust to changing customer needs. Say, the government and military missions rarely operate in static conditions. Having a software-first autonomous, reconfigurable in-orbit satellite, that has also both space-to-ground and space-to-space laser comms capabilities (opening up networks of satellites and dataflows in space) ensures that they’ll always have the communications and connectivity they need to accomplish their mission – even if mission parameters or requirements change.

Another trend that needs to be highlighted here is that with the intensification in the competitive environment and the resulting needs to diversify revenues, a growing number of players are motivated to move within their ecosystem and opt for verticalisation upstream or downstream. We are witnessing a rise of vertically integrated constellations / satellite operators who have the end-to-end control over systems and services. Traditional satellite operators haven’t been immune to that shift either and are now also changing their business models to managed services, trying to catch a bigger piece of the pie. In both cases, customers are at a loss, because they are missing out on the most important areas, especially when talking about communications – and even more so – critical communications missions: control, security, reliability, ownership, and management of the communications network according to owner’s needs, when and where preferred.

Sovereign space capacity for connectivity in full swing

Today, when private individuals and selected countries control powerful new technologies that hover far above terrestrial, national borders, we should be asking ourselves: Who should own non-terrestrial networks? Whose interests should they serve? Who gets to decide how they are used? And what happens if a satellite leasing company goes bankrupt or disappears?

The reasons behind the need to own one's network are many, but just to outline a few we should mention flexibility (yet again), resilience, public safety, defence and military applications, and sovereignty over decision-making. Any entity and stakeholder in the communications domain who seeks to ensure a holistic capability that can timely and flexibly reconfigure in response to emerging geopolitical and operational developments over the course of the system’s life cycle, cannot avoid considering owning a satellite today.

Moreover, a sovereign satellite comms capability not only provides full control over one’s communications, but it also extends to the sovereignty over the decision-making process – ensuring that the system can be brought to task to meet one’s operational needs in minutes if necessary.

The world hasn’t stayed immune to ever-increasing needs for hyper-connectivity, major technological transformations and the quest for digital sovereignty. A notion of a “Space nation” has emerged, bringing more and more nations up to speed in the space race. And it is no longer solely about connecting the unconnected and closing the digital divide. More so, the conversation starts evolving around global space economy, maximising the potential of a given country and ensuring everyone gets a fair share.

Independent countries have been actively looking into opportunities to purchase a satellite that would provide ownership over network and sovereignty over their decision-making, as well as high capacity, autonomy, reconfigurability, but above all – resilience and security. However, sovereign countries aren’t the only ones to forefront the demand. Competent authorities of states and even commercial players are waking up to reality as well. To illustrate, let’s look at the development of IRIS2 (Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite), the new space-based Secure Connectivity programme. The European Union has noted that, “in a geopolitical context where cyber and hybrid threats are multiplying, security and resilience concerns are growing and call for a quantitative and qualitative improvement of EU governmental satcom capacities, moving towards higher security solutions, low latency and higher bandwidth.” Therefore, to tackle current and future challenges, while supporting the autonomy and digital sovereignty of the continent, the European Union has put forward the IRIS2 Secure Connectivity Programme.

A new digital era makes economy and public safety increasingly depending on secure and resilient connectivity worldwide. Already today, satellites have capabilities beyond closing the digital divide, as they can and should support democratic activity, security, and sovereignty over decision-making. Within this landscape, owning a satellite is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.

ReOrbit to the rescue

Our Small SatCom product line provides unparalleled reliability, efficiency, and flexibility in GEO, as well as full ownership of the network for the customer, while remaining highly cost-effective in small form factor. SatCom is able to withstand the rigors of the geostationary Earth orbit that is 35 786 kilometres above Earth's equator. Radio links are used to transfer data space-to-ground in a secure seamless manner with full CCSDS compliancy.

SatCom enables several different services — from high-throughput satellites to fully secure military applications. The payload system capability ranges from ultra-high frequency up to Q/V bands, giving full ownership and sovereignty over decision-making to customers to manage communications traffic according to their needs. It is a scalable system with powerful flight capabilities, for which we manage to keep cost and time-to-orbit low. We even grow the value of your satellite after launch, as we can reconfigure the software in orbit.

ReOrbit is a frontrunner of the vertical cooperation approach; hence, our supply chain is massively simplified, while our partner network is the de-facto centre of excellence for technologies that possess extensive heritage in GEO missions.



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