Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

EC and ESA back IoT nano-satellite project

Steve Rogerson
June 12, 2019

The European Commission and European Space Agency (ESA) are leading a €10m funding round to demonstrate a global IoT nano-satellite constellation with one or more IoT and M2M service providers as pilot customers.
The consortium carrying out the project includes Lithuanian aerospace engineering company NanoAvionics, a nano-satellite missions integrator, and partners KSat (Kongsberg Satellite Services) and Antwerp Space.
They have been awarded €10m funding by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 project, ESA’s Artes programme and private investors. The funding is for the first demonstration of the pre-cursor stage of the global IoT (GIoT) nano-satellite constellation with one or more service providers.
The consortium will not enter the IoT and M2M business directly. Instead it will offer a GIoT constellation-as-a-service in a B2B setup to existing and emerging IoT and M2M operators.
The GIoT system combines the core strengths of the consortium’s partners in a one-stop-shop offer, giving IoT and M2M service providers the means to be economically viable, globally scalable and competitive.
NanoAvionics’ constellation-as-a-service is claimed to give service providers a ten-fold reduction in the cost of their global IoT and M2M communications. The GIoT system will also lower the entry barriers for IoT innovators and enable them to devise new ways of M2M communications.
The GIoT system consists of NanoAvionics’ nano-satellite buses powered by chemical propulsion and enabling constellation synchronisation, launch brokerage services, global real-time connectivity enabled by KSat’s technically mature ground stations network, Antwerp Space’s inter-satellite link via geostationary orbit (geo) satellites, and NanoAvionics’ modular and scalable mission control system.
At the end of next year, the pre-cursor stage, consisting of two or three of NanoAvionics’ interconnected nano-satellites, will be launched into low Earth orbit (leo). The final GIoT constellation will form an interconnected network with 72 satellites and global real-time coverage towards the end of 2023.
“We are excited to support the GIoT project because we recognise the importance that IoT and M2M and satellite connectivity play for the next level of innovation in almost every industry,” said Frank Zeppenfeldt from ESA’s satellite communications group. “ESA’s Artes programme will fund the development of the inter-satellite link from smaller satellites in leo to commercial geo communication satellites, and will demonstrate low cost data-relay services.”
The funding for this European project will allow NanoAvionics and partners to develop and launch the pre-cursor stage of the GIoT constellation, taking it from technology readiness to customer in-orbit testing and preparing it for commercialisation and scale-up.
In particular, the funding will enable NanoAvionics to upgrade its current buses with Antwerp Space’s inter-satellite link for connection with geo satellites and testing the satellites’ compatibility with KSat’s network. It will also let NanoAvionics enhance its modular and scalable mission control system to manage multi-satellite and multi-instrument constellations. The latter will match the various requirements and transceivers operated by different IoT and M2M service providers.
“The phenomenal support by both the European Commission and European Space Agency shows the importance of this GIoT project and their confidence in our world-class partners and NanoAvionics to deliver it,” said Vytenis Buzas, chief executive officer of NanoAvionics. “IoT promises to bring new levels of efficiency to transport, manufacturing and other industries but it needs real-time coverage and lowered cost. While we have seen a lot of activities in the IoT and M2M market and a lot of advancement in hardware, there is a clear lack of the satellite and ground infrastructure that is required for generating downstream revenue for an IoT market expected to reach US$3.21bn by 2023.”
The GIoT service will enable global real-time connectivity for IoT and M2M service providers, and the KSat contribution will be enabling access to KSatlite, a global ground station network optimised for SmallSat constellations.
“By leveraging the KSATlite network, where the corner stones are automated operations and standardisation, GIoT operators will be able to tap into a global, operational and perfectly scalable ground station as-a-service,” said Arild José Jensen, KSat vice president of global sales. “Together with our partners we will facilitate continuous connectivity for the GIoT satellites, thereby providing a unique capability which will open up new opportunities for IoT and M2M service providers.”
Each nano-satellite, based on NanoAvionic’s preconfigured nano-satellite buses, has up to 10U of payload volume, allowing multiple IoT communications providers to place their M2M transceivers in them. Antwerp Space and KSat, through their mission control and data distribution system, will connect this nano-satellite constellation with the terrestrial internet. An Antwerp Space inter-satellite link on each nano-satellite will provide real-time connectivity with traditional geo satellites. The GIoT constellation will send direct communications from the leo satellites to KSat’s global network of ground stations.
“Providing communications to low-cost IoT devices in remote regions has always been difficult and quite expensive,” said Koen Puimège, managing director of Antwerp Space. “Today’s cellular networks only provide coverage for densely populated parts of the world’s landmass, which comprises less than 20% of the total Earth surface. Equally, Earth-to-orbit transmissions via traditional satellites require expensive, energy-consuming technology. The market opportunity for this GIoT constellation is to cover the remaining 80% with low-cost communication services.”
The earliest applications by IoT and M2M providers using this space-based IoT constellation-as-a-service will be in the transport and energy industries. For example, small sensors on pipelines and oil platforms would be able to send their data to monitoring centres. By using location-based devices, providers can let transport companies track aircraft, ships and even individual shipping containers through the most remote regions of the planet. The GIoT will also enable telco operators to offer cellular network coverage over oceans, a service that so far only exists within developed regions.