Canadian Nanosatellite Launch from China Heralds New Era of Satellite Services
TORONTO, ON – January 24, 2018 – A new era in space communications began on Friday January 19 with the successful launch of an ultra-low-cost telecommunications satellite from Canada-based Kepler Communications. The mission serves as a technology demonstration for Kepler’s novel Ku-band telecommunications payload, and offers the best price per MHz of any communication satellite on the market.
With this launch, the Canadian start-up becomes the first commercial company ever to launch and successfully operate a LEO communications satellite in Ku-band. This highly valuable frequency band is ideal for telecommunication services, and is currently being sought for use by many companies planning on deploying mega-constellations of satellites. Kepler’s network of satellites will eventually enable in-space connectivity for other satellites, space stations, and transport vehicles.
"We are really excited that we are the first to deploy a commercial Ku-band LEO spacecraft," said Kepler CEO Mina Mitry. “While the goal of Kepler will be to establish an in-space connectivity network, we recognize the need for a sustainable and incremental deployment of services and technologies in order to achieve this goal.”
This incremental deployment approach has driven Kepler’s inaugural service, which focuses on relieving the high cost and limited bandwidth real-time satellite connectivity with a delay tolerant service. Mitry argues that “there is a tremendous amount of data out there that doesn’t need real-time connectivity, but just needs to move – GIS data, aggregated IoT sensor data, CCTV backlogs, even media. We can move high volumes of this data, we can do it cheaply, and we improve our quality of service with every new satellite we launch”.
Kepler is taking advantage of the market opportunity for bulk data transfer that is largely overlooked by others in the industry today. “There are companies out there putting hard drives on helicopters and flying them around because there aren’t alternatives to transport bulk data,” Mitry said. “This standard practice will gradually be replaced by affordable connectivity solutions like ours to move data from remote locations, simplifying logistics and improving business sustainability in the long term.”
Bulk data transfer isn’t the only application that the company sees in the near future. Kepler also sees a market opportunity for providing narrowband satellite connectivity to enable the “Internet of Things”, or IoT.
“The challenge with IoT is that to create a truly compelling business model, you need lots of devices connected,” Mitry said. “That requires pricing and performance on par with terrestrial wireless. The amount of spectrum in Ku-band presents a viable way of doing this, but there needs to be substantial technology advancements before we can get there. Being the first to actually deploy a LEO Ku-band system gives us a first-mover advantage.”
The market for IoT connectivity is compelling. Applications include asset tracking for railcars, shipping containers, or construction equipment. It includes connecting soil moisture sensors, seismic monitors, or even refuse bins. “We can see applications that require 100s of millions of connected devices,” Mitry said. “But this only will be realized if we can get the user devices to the price, power, and size that enable customers to reach large scale deployments.”
The number and size of operational spacecraft in Kepler’s constellation will vary at times based on customer demand and new applications. Each satellite added to the network will incrementally increase overall throughput and reduce revisit time. “As the need for connectivity increases, we increase our constellation capacity in tandem,” Mitry said. “It’s how we believe we can sustainably deploy a LEO constellation.”
The initial Kepler nanosatellite was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in Northwestern China with launch service provided by China Great Wall Industries Corporation and contracted through Innovative Space Logistics. Jiuquan, founded in 1958, was the first of China's four spaceports. This marks the 100th successful launch from JSLC to date. More Chinese launches have occurred at Jiuquan than anywhere else in the country. Kepler is the first Canadian spacecraft ever launched from China.
The Kepler spacecraft was built in partnership with Clyde Space Ltd who provided the spacecraft bus, as well as Bright Ascension Ltd, who provided the onboard software. The Kepler ground support network was built in collaboration with Comtech EF Data, Kongsberg Satellite Services, Innovative Solutions in Space, and Nextologies. The Kepler payload was developed in collaboration with Enclustra and AHA (of Comtech EF).
The successful deployment of Kepler’s first nanosatellite is a key demonstration of the company’s core technologies: software-defined radios and antenna arrays that can efficiently exploit available spectrum from space. Kepler has several customers already signed up to take advantage of the backhaul service available from the first nanosatellite.