How does the idiom go? That fate is written in the stars? Any scientist would dispute this, but what you can get from looking to space for inspiration are real opportunities to monitor and predict future events on Earth.
Governments across the world have long been using satellite technology for this purpose. Since the 1960s there have been satellites looking towards Earth and gathering all sorts of information about the land, oceans, the atmosphere and sky.
Cloud pictures, for example, help meteorologists to understand weather patterns and fairly accurately predict the chance of rain – although if you’ve ever been caught without an umbrella in an expected downpour I’m sure you’ll take affront at this!
Monitor and respond
My point being, satellites are pretty good at capturing and relaying data about the world, from which intelligence can be gleaned and assumptions made. The extreme storms that hit parts of the UK and Ireland recently were identified in advance, which meant warnings and advice – such as staying indoors if possible and checking weather and traffic reports before travelling - were issued early to people in affected places.
It’s not just weather. Satellites are also used to monitor phenomena like ice movement, wildfires, volcanoes and atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide. This helps scientists predict climate change, public health officials to track disease, and emergency workers to respond to natural disasters.
Opening up the market
All of this, of course, is expensive.
Traditional satellites are large – around the size of a bus – and costly, due to the associated weight and power, and high airtime prices.
Until very recently, the technology was the domain of governments and their agencies, and a few very large, private companies that could afford the outlay. The considerable cost of space telecommunications has priced many out of the market that may find it advantageous, particularly service providers such as utilities companies.
But say an electricity provider had access to this technology. It’d be able to monitor assets like electricity pylons remotely and, using the data received, could make informed, risk-based decisions such as planning maintenance or identifying problems earlier, before these become more expensive to fix or potentially dangerous.
The secret is shrinkage
What we at e2E are doing is making satellite communications cheaper and easier to access. How? It’s the size, weight and power where a lot of the cost is in telecommunications; shrinking these down makes it more affordable.
Our communication node, NEATaccess, is about the size of an iPhone and uses next-generation network capabilities, which means it exploits technologies developed for the internet for a range of telecommunications, including voice, video and data, from a single platform, rather than multiple, separate ones.
The result is a communications device that is less costly to build and operate, and quicker to deliver. We’ve recently completed a study that proved it is possible to cut the time it takes to build a communications terminal for space from 3 years to 9 months.
More possibilities for integration
Miniaturisation also eradicates some of the weight issues that may have otherwise prevented it being integrated with certain systems or devices.
Newer, smaller Cubesat terminals – so-called because they are made up of 10cm cubes, making it about the size of a shoe box – can host NEATaccess. As can innovative delivery platforms like high altitude pseudo-satellites, which fly just under space, and other airborne platforms including drones and unmanned aircraft systems.
Reducing the technology’s size and weight means these newer platforms can now travel further using less power.
These smaller terminals and alternative platforms are cheaper to buy, and cheaper to run, with airtime prices much, much less than it is for large satellites.
Watch this space
We’re due to launch our first terminal with NEATaccess in 2018. Please do follow our journey and get in touch if you’re interested in the programme or would like to find out more feel free to get in touch with us.
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