As small satellite constellation missions require flexible and scalable capabilities, there are clear advantages of using an existing ground station network transformed into a globally integrated “ground station cloud” as opposed to the traditional ground station networks primarily designed to support the needs of one or few satellites with consistent contact needs.
Cloud computing in space
Cloud computing is defined as “ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources." Applying this paradigm to existing ground station network architecture improves applicability, effectiveness, and user-friendliness for small satellite constellations. The use of existing multi-mission antennas in established ground station networks has been the first step in this direction, and has overcome initial challenges inhibiting satellite-agnostic operations such as configuration and compatibility concerns. Fortunately, recent advances in low-cost TT&C and payload reception architectures (e.g. Software Defined Radio – SDR, etc.) have now made it possible to provide a true multi-mission ground station network as a cloud – enabling support of any satellite at any time from any ground station for the first time in history. The ability to support many satellites from such an integrated network enhances the user abstraction level, allowing satellite operators to request data coverage (in addition to specific ground station passes), in turn leaving detailed mission planning to the Ground Station Cloud.
The “Ground Station Cloud” today
Applying the NewSpace constellation data-centric approach, the “Ground Station Cloud” (realized through the existing KSAT Lite network) provides a global, easy-to-use and omnipresent ground station solution enabling Big Data applications.
KSAT has built the world’s largest NewSpace ground station network through a lean innovation process, with input from satellite owners and operators. Now satellite owners can access their satellites from any world continent through the integrated KSAT global ground station network. KSAT’s ground network is designed so that the customer can schedule all needed satellite contacts over the Internet, via machine-to-machine or human-to-machine (via web portal). Once scheduled, KSAT downlinks and brings the data to storage on-site, and then immediately to any cloud service such as AWS, Google Cloud, or the users’ own service installation from anywhere in the world. This network also supports different levels of processing – through any combination of cloud-based equipment, or KSAT-provided or customer-provided equipment on site. KSAT has continued innovating our ground station technology, giving a truly global satellite coverage accessible through the cloud, with data delivered through various processing options to the storage location of choice.
KSAT has in just over a decade taken the position as the world’s leading ground station provider in the LEO satellite market. KSAT currently has over 20 ground station sites around the globe, and has apertures on all world continents. KSAT owns and operates uniquely positioned ground stations spanning from 78 degrees north in Svalbard to 72 degrees south in Antarctica. Between five different sites in the Arctic and the one in Antarctica, KSAT has 14 additional sites located in the more mid-latitude regions.
Focusing on our competitive advantage
The KSAT goal is that customers can access their satellite from anywhere, anytime. KSAT`s core business is the ground segment, and KSAT delivers ground station as a service so that the satellite owners and operators can focus on their core business – data, data analytics, and providing information to their customers. KSAT has therefore approached the market designing solutions that enables a “plug and play” approach for the satellite operators, which at the same time enables flexibility of technical design for the end user.
Due to our experience in this sector, KSAT has been able to implement customer-centric business models at attractive prices, which for new companies is often just as important as the technical solution. From the beginning, KSAT understood that optimizing solutions for constellation support was crucial to meet a new mindset in the industry. As many companies first considered COTS and DIY approaches, the challenges around high investment costs, securing international laws and license, little or no onsite support, and unreliable hardware quickly reinforced the value of having an integrated ground network commercially available for the industry. With our expertise, we were able to meet the industry need by integrating our capabilities in procuring validated hardware through capital-intensive investments, securing international communications licenses, and maintaining a highly-skilled engineering support team at all of our sites.
Given the trend of technology, KSAT approached building our global ground network with the goal of enabling the customer to buy ground station services in the same fashion as they buy any other cloud service. Now that our network is in place and constantly expanding, our customers can acquire cost-efficient services, while still expanding the data volume passing from spacecraft to the cloud, and experiencing lower latency.
Integrated solutions – online scheduling and setup
The KSAT system comes with an “out of the box” Interface Control Document (ICD) on how to interconnect to KSAT antenna systems. The ICD also list several options to customize the systems to accommodate a certain degree of flexibility – but just enough to keep it cost efficient. The KSAT system was designed to standardize ground support, while at the same time allowing a high degree of flexibility – balancing requirements to achieve a plug-and-play and one-size-fits-most solution.
The KSAT system includes fully integrated baseband units, which support a variety of the most used modulation types and protocols. As an alternative, KSAT does allow users to “bring their own devices” to interconnect to the KSAT network, if that architecture better fits the operational needs and technical design. Whichever solution the user chooses to implement, it is all accessible over the cloud. With the ease of set-up and scheduling, KSAT is able quickly to respond to customer needs to provide the needed satellite access time from a global network in just a matter of days.
The success of open platforms
With now dozens of constellations of small satellites, the value of open, standardized platforms is clear. In a capital-intensive industry, it is crucial to leverage benefits of economy of scale in both hardware and expertise. The KSATLite network, in establishing a cloud-based service for satellite communications, allows satellite operators to seamlessly transfer data from space through processing algorithms and on to the end-customer in record time. By offering an advanced capability on a scalable platform, KSAT has further opened access to space, enabling new missions to succeed in a fast-growing industry.