This year, Via Satellite is proud to introduce its very first Satellite Technology of the Year (STOTY) award, complementing the financial and strategic achievements recognized by our long-standing Satellite Executive of the Year (SEOTY) event. This new award recognizes: a single technology, innovation, or concept, as well as the people and/or organization responsible for the technology’s development and realization.
In order to qualify for our Satellite Technology of the Year award, nominees must have been publicly released and operational between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018. They were also required to meet at least two of the following five criteria: Nominated technologies can clearly show that they meet a significant market demand; the technology creates clear, significant cost-savings or technical efficiencies (including physical design elements) that were previously unavailable; the technology is profitable; the technology is responsible for improving quality of life, or has been responsible for saving lives; and the technology is disruptive, and/or represents a breakthrough in scientific research or space exploration.
We’re very proud to present these six candidates, which were nominated by our readers and our editorial board earlier this year. Our first group of nominees includes two data analysis platforms, drones, a modem, an antenna, and a state university space facility! Like our Executive of the Year award, the Technology of the Award winner will be determined by a combination of votes collected by Via Satellite readers, the Via Satellite editorial board, and SATELLITE 2019 attendees!
Voting will end at 12pm noon EST on Tuesday, May 7th. The winner will be announced at the SATELLITE 2019 Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, May 8th at 12:30 p.m.
Airbus Defense and Space — Starling Monitoring Service
Satellite imagery and sensing technology is one the most important tools we have in our global quest for environmental sustainability. It provides the data we need to protect and preserve our natural resources. In April of 2017, a European Parliament resolution noted that 40 percent of global deforestation is caused by clearing vegetation to make way for palm oil plantations. In order to ensure that no palm oil supply chains linked to the European Union (EU) were connected to deforestation, the resolution stated that a satellite monitoring solution was needed. Airbus answered the call.
After forming a partnership with non-profit organization The Forest Trust (TFT) and a Netherlands-based company SarVision, Airbus created a monitoring platform called Starling, supported by imagery and data derived from detailed, 1.5-meter resolution images captured by the Airbus-built SPOT-6 and SPOT-7 satellites, combined with radar and free optical data from the Landsat and Sentinel-2 spacecraft. The unique combination of assets allows Airbus Starling to overcome the obstacle of cloud cover while monitoring palm oil supply chains.
With the new offering ready to launch, Airbus entered into partnership agreements with the world’s largest food company, Nestlé and the world’s second largest chocolate producer, Ferrero, offering the Starling service for palm oil monitoring. During the launch, Nestlé committed to zero deforestation by 2020 for all of its supply chain and stated that Airbus’ Starling would be the difference maker in achieving that goal. Nestlé has plans to extend the satellite monitoring program with Airbus to cover pulp and paper supply chains in 2019. Other supply chains, such as soybean, could follow shortly after.
We nominate Airbus’ Starling Monitoring Service for our 2018 Technology of the Year award due to its innovative use of multiple satellites and imaging techniques to overcome a smaller problem in order to solve a much larger one for humanity. We also recognize the company’s efforts to seek out partnerships and customers to ensure that Starling makes the largest possible impact on preventing deforestation.
Intellian — v240MT Tri-band Antenna System
For the past decade, there has been a constant and very real demand in the maritime and cruise ship markets for innovative antenna technologies that can enable and support a wide variety of intense, data-rich applications. For cruise line operators, a dream solution would be an antenna that can “do it all.” Intellian has come up with an antenna system that covers an impressive amount of ground in realizing these visions of connectivity at sea.
Intellian’s multi-orbit and tri-band v240MT antenna system is the world’s first of its kind that enables communication services in three different frequency bands and tracks both Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites, as well as satellites in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). It delivers data rates exceeding 1 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) utilizing a single 2.4-meter reflector. Most importantly, the antenna’s versatility allows it to access to virtually any satellite constellation within seconds. While operating, two of its antennas may be tracking moving MEO satellites while a third could be pointed at a fixed GEO satellite. If one antenna becomes blocked by a part of the ship, the system will automatically select the next best solution and switch without any loss of connection for those on-board, without any intervention. Supporting Dual Data Centers on a ship, the v240MT can also handle instant changeover with no manual intervention, an important factor in crew safety and vessel operations.
The v240MT also combines MEO tracking capabilities, providing global coverage to high-volume data users, such as offshore, seismic, and cruise vessels, requiring fast and seamless communication services like those available on land. For its extraordinary level of dedication in designing a product that attempts to mimic the “at home” connectivity experience at sea through a strategic combination of capabilities, we nominate Intellian and v240MT for our 2018 Technology of the Year award.
Morehead State University Space Science Center
Cultivating future leaders and innovators will always be a primary mission for the satellite industry. After raising awareness of our industry’s mentorship gap, and the emergence of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and similar programs around the world, we are now starting to see more talented young people seeking careers in space. The path to a successful career in the satellite and space industries begins with receiving proper education, training, and mentorship. Morehead State University (MSU) offers the highest quality of all three elements with its state-of-the-art Space Science Center.
MSU is only one of five institutions in United States that offers a bachelor’s degree in space science. Its $16.6 million instruction and research support facility, the Space Science Center (SSC), opened in 2009, originating from a joint NASA-National Science Foundation (NSF)-MSU venture to develop a large aperture, 21-meter radio telescope and satellite tracking station and associated labs at the university. The two-story, state-of-the-art building encompasses 45,000 square feet of floor space and includes: a tracking station control center; Radio Frequency (RF) and electronics laboratories; anechoic chambers that mimic the electromagnetic environment of space; a rooftop antenna test range; a space systems development laboratory; and a digital Star Theater.
The MSU SSC has become an important center for research in nanosatellite and cubesat technologies. Its director, Dr. Benjamin Malphrus, has been at the forefront of developing Morehead States program for the design and development of CubeSats and other space related technologies. Additionally, he brought Robert J. “Bob” Twiggs as a Professor of Astronautics and Space Science at Morehead State. Robert Twiggs is the co-inventor of the CubeSat Reference Design for miniaturized satellites while he was at Stanford University. Cubesats developed at the SSC are being used for a wide variety of applications ranging from tactical defense to scientific research (including astrophysics research and Earth phenomena and resource monitoring) to practical applications ranging from communications to relaying data from ground sensors.
MSU’s Space Science Center was recently named the best aerospace research and development center in Kentucky by Southern Business and Development magazine, beating out research and development programs at Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. For its remarkable success in mentoring students, and enabling them to develop, design, build, test, validate, and operate spacecraft systems with hands-on training supervised by an impressive faculty, we nominate Morehead State University’s Space Science Center for our 2018 Technology of the Year award.
ND Satcom — SKYWAN Router
ND SatCom introduced its SKYWAN spot-beam mesh technology for mobile terminal roaming, in 2018. The platform brings military technology to the commercial sector, enabling star, mesh, multi-star or hybrid topologies with Communications-on-the-Move (COTM) support, while allowing service providers to adapt network connectivity requirements seamlessly to customer application needs. What elevates ND SatCom’s SKYWAN to the level of being a Technology of the Year nominee, however, is that the company cleverly integrated and commercialized SKYWAN with LTE as the forerunner to the evolving 3GPP 5G cellular telecommunication standard.
We also recognize SKYWAN for its unique design and form factor. The SKYWAN modem features a quick deployable hubless infrastructure and network architecture. The unit stays in one box throughout its lifecycle and during network changes to save cost and provide ease of use. SKYWAY technology also provides and supports MF-TDMA and DVB-S2X, allowing for real-time, high-throughput transmissions and efficient use of satellite capacity via optimization of jitter, throughput. ND SatCom’s SKYWAN platform supports voice, video and data applications. Bandwidth is provided to end-users in the most efficient manner by means of the system´s bandwidth allocation scheme. Transmission capacity is assigned to stations dynamically and automatically, as and when they need it, which frees up resources for other stations in the network.
ND Satcom’s SKYWAN has been well-received by broadcast media, defense, and first responder end-users, including the Deutsche Bundeswehr, multiple Ministry of Defenses (MoDs) in Europe and the Middle East, and commercial enterprises in South and West Africa. It serves a role in disaster relief — where every second counts — with voice and data transmission in tactical LTE-to-LTE cell communication. SKYWAN provides communication for critical air traffic control services including radar, and comes with a guaranteed service level via satellite links. This achievement in engineering and design deserves a nomination for Via Satellite’s 2018 Technology of the Year.
QuadSAT — SATCOM Drones
Anyone who uses Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) systems in remote environments knows that antenna testing can be both cost- and time-consuming in the field. In order to appropriately manage these tests, ship and aircraft operators often face long periods of operational downtime, which can hike up both operational expenses and safety risks. The founders of Danish startup company QuadSAT noticed these issues, and rolled out a unique and vital satellite antenna qualification and calibration service for the industry that uses drone technology.
QuadSAT’s drones test and calibrate satellite and VSAT antennas autonomously, mimicking an orbiting satellite that can simulate a ship or aircraft’s motion. Combining the latest drone technology with a simulated satellite payload and mathematical algorithms, QuadSAT simplifies the requirements for satellite antenna testing, qualification and calibration. This method allows QuadSAT to offer more accurate testing while drastically reducing customers’ operational downtime.
When developing its drone testing platform, QuadSAT very wisely took satellite interference into consideration —collecting feedback from operators that revealed a rise in interference correlating with a rise in Comms-on-the-move systems. That said, QuadSAT tailored its drones so that they can also be used to identify interference to satellite transmissions with pinpoint accuracy, which is vital to minimize inadvertent or other rogue interference. Ultimately, this technology alleviates a massive pain point for customers at a competitive price — thanks to the accessibility and low-cost of drone hardware.
Remarkably, QuadSAT is only a couple of years old. The company was launched in 2017 as a university project. In just a short amount of time, the company has secured seed funding from both government and private investment firms, business contracts from some of the world’s leading satellite operators, satellite antenna manufacturers, VSAT network operators’ maintenance teams and antenna testing facilities, and has scored an endorsement from the Global VSAT Forum (GVF) as a preferred testing platform, meeting its new testing standards. For its incredible speed of success, its innovative use of low-cost drone technology, and its intelligent approach to designing a platform that meets multiple needs and solves multiple problems for a core segment of our industry, we nominate QuadSAT’s SATCOM drone testing platform as a potential 2018 Technology of the Year winner.
Ursa Space Systems — Global Oil Monitoring SAR Data Platform
While other Satellite Technology of the Year finalists have scored nominations for solutions that enable efficient operational testing and resource preservation, Ursa Space Systems gets our nod for a technology that provides key resource location for an industry in constant, and sometimes desperate need of efficiencies.
Ithaca, New York-based Ursa Space Systems leverages Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, aggregated from radar satellite providers around the globe and analyzed by in-house experts, to provide critical oil monitoring and location intelligence for the energy industry. According to RRE Ventures (one of Ursa’s investors) the Earth Observation (EO) market represents a $43 billion opportunity over the next decade with SAR-based revenues as one of the fastest growing components. Cumulative global revenues from SAR imagery alone, according to RRE estimates, will be $6.2 billion by 2025.
With an innovative data analytics tool geared towards a lucrative vertical market in hand, Ursa wowed its initial investors, which in turn, gave the startup the capital it needed to build the world’s largest radar satellite network seemingly overnight. Ursa’s data collection network is unhindered by weather. The company follows a strict quality assurance process with both automation and human-in-the-loop sense checking, and makes it very clear that its network provides measurements, not estimates. This is crucial for its oil and gas energy market customers. The difference between knowing approximately where to look for oil and knowing exactly where to find it translates into billions of dollars in operational savings, and more importantly, a tremendous reduction in environmental impact.
If this weren’t big enough of an achievement for Ursa, the company also used its SAR network capability to pioneer oil supply transparency, by monitoring oil storage in China, the Middle East/North Africa region, and the Caribbean. Ursa now manages oil storage in nearly 10,000 tanks at over 340 terminals, representing 150 different global sites, for more than 3.6 billion barrels of capacity measured on a reliable weekly basis.
It is difficult to imagine a more effective illustration of the economic power of comprehensive data analysis — it is knowledge that keeps global industry fair and profitable. Ursa receives regular praise from analysts and industry executives for leading the Industry 4.0 revolution in the energy market, and we view its massive SAR data network as a deserving contender for our 2018 Technology of the Year award.