The Future of Satellite Constellations
A satellite constellation is a group of satellites that work together to achieve a single purpose. These formations allow space agencies and companies to mitigate pain-points such as high levels of latency, which is responsible for the delay in communication before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. They do this by overlapping coverage areas to ensure stable and constant service.
We take a look at where the space industry is today in terms of these constellations, highlighting some benefits of harnessing their collective power as well as how SpaceChain aims to contribute towards the democratisation of space through our very own distributed, decentralised satellite network:
Moving towards universal internet access
Some notable players that have joined the satellite constellation race is Softbank backed OneWeb, SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, all three coming out with their clusters of low earth orbit satellites which are touted to make major breakthroughs in the provision of Internet access to rural areas.
When it comes to the commercialisation of outer space, high-speed Internet is probably one of, if not the main, area of focus, with a promise to provide this necessity to the remaining 3.8 Billion people who still don’t have access to the World Wide Web.
Starlink hopes to achieve the above by 2027, with an end-goal for the launch of close to 12 000 satellites into outer space — a figure that will increase the total number of satellites in orbit 6-fold. These satellites are designed to orbit at low altitudes above the Earth and work with ground receivers to beam internet coverage to the surface below. They are considerably closer to earth than traditional geostationary orbiting ones, providing faster Internet speeds as well as reliable connections at lower costs. SpaceX’s latest launch in early January added to its tally of small broadband satellites in outer space to 180, making it the largest fleet in orbit.
OneWeb is making progress towards providing high-speed Internet to the 48 per cent of the Arctic that currently doesn’t have broadband coverage, recognising that global connectivity has become more of a necessity even across remote areas of the globe. Amazon Project Kuiper is also making great strides forward in the field, with satellite constellations that will provide internet connectivity to underserved communities — and in some cases, to people without any access at all.
Although not the only players in the field, the three industry leaders hope to leverage their respective fleets of hundreds to thousands of satellites to create solutions for pressing issues in a world where instant global communication has become a necessity. Aside from the advantages of heightened speeds and widespread access afforded by such constellations, is also the reduction of overall costs for the end consumer.
A threat to outer space competition
The dominance of the satellite arena by a handful of major players — which can be likened to Google and Facebook’s dominance of major parts of the tech market on Earth — has analysts and space professionals concerned that the industry may not breed inclusivity and an open playing field for innovation.
It would seem that the very same companies that set out to provide unrivalled access to discovery in the field could also contribute to its exclusivity on the innovation front. This has been a main catalyst for the creation of our efforts in creating an open-source satellite, which will facilitate disruption of the industry by democratising access to space.
Moving towards a decentralised common ground
SpaceChain is working on a different kind of satellite constellation, one that is distributed, decentralised, and rests on a heterogeneous mesh network of interoperating low earth orbit (LEO) and medium space orbit (MEO) spacecraft managed by multiple owners across multiple jurisdiction. The constellation is open for all to join as long as they meet certain requirements that will ensure continued collaboration as well as the overall long-term health and resilience of the ecosystem.
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