• Satellite Evolution Group

An industry determined to lead and innovate emerges amid a pandemic at Satellite 2021

With trade shows and conferences once more kicking off again in the satcom sector, albeit with limited international participants, the opportunity for business and innovation is ripe after such a long absence.

Paul Sims, Contributor, Satellite Evolution Group


Attendance may be been down at Satellite 2021 this week, but enthusiasm and innovation has never been stronger. While the pandemic kept many international participants away, it’s clear that COVID-19 did little to slow promising advancements and unprecedented partnerships in satellite’s growing role in global connectivity.

Satellite 2021 drew smaller but enthusiastic crowds of attendees emerging from the pandemic

“Everywhere on Earth speaks to what I think is the super power of satellite, which is reach. We have the ability to connect the edge of a network as efficiently as we can in the center, and that’s obviously not the case for terrestrial networks,” noted SES CEO Steve Collar, who participated virtually from Luxembourg during the highly anticipated general session ‘The Future of Global Satellite Connectivity.’


Collar shared the stage with Facebook, SpaceX and ST Engineering iDirect, reflective of the new collaborative landscape required to elevate the connected experience anywhere. “Our job is to make our services carrier grade, as reliable and easy to use as terrestrial in parts of the world where terrestrial doesn’t and will never exist,” Collar said. “Whether that’s planes in the air, ships at sea, or extending telco networks where it would otherwise be economically unviable.”


“It’s a long runway to solve that problem, and it really revolves around not being as proprietary and closed as we have been historically as an industry,” said Kevin Steen, ST Engineering iDirect CEO, noting that a telco-satellite collaboration will truly unleash 5G and open the door to an unprecedented connected experience.


OneWeb executive chair Sunil Bharti Mittal announced such a partnership during his Satellite 2021 keynote address on Wednesday, revealing that AT&T will use One Web’s LEO satellites to provide broadband services to ‘poorly connected’ communities across the US that are outside its fiber footprint.


“I am pleased to share with you today that the US market now has a huge distributor in the form of AT&T,” Mittal announced. “We expect to sign at least one telecom operator in every country of the world,” he said, noting OneWeb has already more than a dozen telco partnerships in place.


“You can’t solve the global connectivity problem without satellite. It’s absolutely vital,” according to Facebook Connectivity’s Brian Barritt. “Availability of 4G is estimated to grow from 40 percent to 55 percent by 2025, so it’s happening but just too slow,” Barritt told the session audience, pointing out satellite is well positioned as a much needed accelerator once barriers such as proprietary solutions and networks are removed between telecom and satellite networks.


“Satellite has been on an island far too long,” claims Collar, pointing to SES’ plans to “allow telcos to essentially use our space-based architecture as an extension of their own terrestrial networks.”

“Satellite networks and ground game should be part of the 6G standards development,” noted Steen. “Let’s figure out how we can drive and optimize that process as an industry.”


Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of Starlink Commercial Sales for SpaceX noted the company is serving 100,000 broadband customers in 15 countries across the globe. “People are coming out of the woodwork with a need for connectivity,” he said. “We are working with telcos [to make that happen].” SpaceX’s goal, according to Hofeller is to provide “so much capacity it will open up so many more use cases.”


Innovations across the value chain and the Satellite 2021 exhibit floor are proof positive that satellite was busy upping its game amid the pandemic. Advancements in everything from ultra-high-powered military-tough modems and satellite security software to spacecraft propulsion systems are among the dozens of announcements that have been the talk of a conference and an industry that hasn’t missed a beat.


Innovations across the exhibit floor and beyond

Advantech unveiled a new solid state super-powered amplifier system that is already drawing strong interest from the Space Force and the NASA Artemis program, a US-led international human spaceflight program.


Artemis was launched in 2017 with the primary goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024. Advantech cut its teeth on DTH amplifiers that allow system operators running 200 to 250 television channels to deliver more content more efficiently, using far less satellite bandwidth.


Knowing Advantech’s Summit II amplifier with the equivalent of 16,000W of “phase combined power” is bound to play an integral role in lunar missions has Radford and his team imagining just what out of this world applications the government has in mind for the new innovation.

Benchmark's EVP of Business Development and Strategy Chris Carella with the Halcyon thruster, a small propulsion workhorse that is currently aboard three satellite missions in space

“It’s a hush-hush program at this point, and we’re thrilled to be a part,” said Radford. “The beauty is they need big horsepower, and Advantech is one of the few companies on earth who can deliver it.”


Propulsion will enable the future space economy and Benchmark Space Systems is well on its way to being a leading provider of in-space mobility solutions. Benchmark CEO Ryan McDevitt shared his vision of an ecosystem of interconnected on-orbit services and capabilities during the first-day ‘Advances in Spacecraft Propulsion Systems’ panel discussion.


“The biggest advances on the horizon involve not only on-orbit servicing and refueling capabilities that will extend mission life, but propulsion innovations that will help accelerate ROI of on-orbit assets,” McDevitt said after the popular session.


Benchmark has its workhorse Halcyon thruster aboard a trio of government and commercial satellite missions in space, following the successful SpaceX Falcon 9 Transporter 2 mission this summer. Gas station in space operator Orbit Fab is using Benchmark’s non-toxic, hydrogen-peroxide fueled Halcyon thruster to power its prototype tanker in low Earth orbit.


In-space inspection and situational awareness provider SCOUT and Orbit Fab are among the first to sign mobility as a service (MaaS) agreements with Benchmark to virtually eliminate upfront propulsion equipment costs and speed up strategic roadmaps to boost OSAM mission revenues.

Ray Powers of Walton De-Ice reveals a .7cm antenna tucked inside a new patented radome

The name Walton De-Ice implies antenna protection against extremely cold conditions, but the company just patented its new tent-like portable radome that also guards against destructive heat, 85mph winds, and sand.


“We just received our patent for our radome that protects .6cm to 1.2cm terminals up to 4.5m antennas,” explained Ray Powers, director of sales and marketing, Walton De-Ice. “This new radome has really resonated with the government and military because of the reliable protection it provides even in the harshest environments.”


The armed forces are a big fan of Comtech’s new ‘mudbox’ – an ultra-high-speed modem that’s built like a tank and offers the durability of an 8x8 inch brick.

Louis Dubin of Comtech Satellite Network Technologies shows off the new portable mudbox modem

“The mudbox offers encryption, spreading, and a broad range of waveforms compatible with the U.S. DOD sector,” explained Louis Dubin, senior vice president, Comtech Satellite Network Technologies. “It’s back-packable, fly away capable, and ready to take on the toughest conditions.”


TriSept is in the process of putting its new Linux-based satellite security software solution through advanced lab and suborbital tests. The TriSept Secure Embedded Linux (TSEL) operating system (OS) is capable of detecting, tracking and eliminating known and emerging vulnerabilities on conventional and small satellites.


“TriSept is closing the security gap aboard an unprecedented number of small satellite missions bound for space,” said Rob Spicer, TriSept CEO. “Our teams are integrally involved in conceptualizing, integrating and managing a broad range of missions headed for space, and we’re providing TSEL to keep them safe and secure.”


TSEL is undergoing a series of advanced lab tests with Old Dominion University and suborbital trial runs aboard RocketStar’s launch vehicle set to lift off from Cape Canaveral this fall. On track for commercial rollout by December, TSEL is set to earn full flight heritage in the spring of 2022 aboard a Lunasonde earth-scanning radar satellite scheduled to launch to low Earth orbit on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket.


On the horizon

Satellite 2021 marks a milestone 40th anniversary for the annual satellite conference and exhibition. And while it was a smaller gathering of industry professionals, it will be remembered as the event that reinvigorated in-person collaboration amid a lingering pandemic.


As attendees and companies head back home, they will no doubt continue to further their exciting innovations and advancements in the face of adversity with just six months until they meet again at Satellite 2022.