Friday, May 22, 2015

Moore's Law Comes to the Satellite Business in a Big Way

In consumer or business technology markets, Moore’s Law matters. Over the past decade, consumer applications also have been leading and driving business technology, a vast change from typical adoption patterns before the Internet.

Now consumer electronics dynamics, especially consumer market manufacturing volumes, are creating new economics for satellite services, according to
Vern Fotheringham, LeoSat CEO.

Because of relentless advances in chip-layer processing, memory and integration, the costs of satellite bandwidth and communication are falling significantly, allowing new economics, Fotheringham says.

“As you look at the migration to low earth orbit, small satellites and consumer grade microprocessors can be applied to the space segment,” says Fotheringham.

One example: where “hardened” platforms always were essential for satellites expected to orbit for 15 years without failing or any ability to roll a truck to fix something that has broken, now massive redundancy is an alternative approach to reducing risk.

Having huge fleets, and a mesh architecture, really helps, from the standpoint of redundancy, Fotheringham says. “The cost of hardening has changed. Now we can use redundancy, instead.”

And it would be hard to underestimate the impact of ability to use components and systems produced at consumer market volumes.

Also, because the new constellations use much smaller, and much lighter satellites, the cost to build satellites, and the cost to launch them, will drop dramatically as well.

To a reasonable extent, bigger satellite constellations also mean buying more units, instead of single units. That makes possible volume pricing and creates new trade-offs for business planners.

LeoSat, for example,  plans to launch a constellation of small, high-throughput Ka-band spacecraft that will deliver Internet services globally.

The network initially would comprise 80 satellites aimed at fixed and maritime markets by 2019, and grow to around 120 satellites assuming the business grows as expected.

LeoSat was founded by former Schlumberger executives Cliff Anders and Phil Marlar, who knew well enough the challenges and requirements for energy company communications.

For perhaps the first time, Moore’s Law is going to affect satellite communications business models in a significant way.

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