The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted U.S.-Singaporean New Space company Audacy a licence for the first commercial inter-satellite relay network, and the implications of this are transformational for space communications as LEO operators, for the first time, can be in constant contact with their satellites.
As satellites move around the Earth, they lose line-of-sight from individual ground stations that operators use to communicate with their spacecraft. This means that there are long periods where no communications are possible and results in missed revenue opportunities. The FCC licence means that Audacy can now build a relay network that provides spacecraft operators with continuous, real-time connectivity and always-on command services to customers’ LEO spacecraft.
Against the backdrop of enormous growth in the satellite services industry and the advent of Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) spacecraft, dramatic improvement is required in terms of the communications solutions in LEO. At present, ground-based communications solutions offer connectivity for less than 40% of the time for NGSO spacecraft.
“Securing commercial spectrum is one of the biggest obstacles to deploying a new satellite constellation and takes years of technical work, collaboration with regulators, and industry discussions,” said Dr. Ralph Ewig, CEO of Audacy. “Every part of the proposed system is rigorously scrutinized by regulators and existing space operators. Imagine you bought a phone and found a note that says: ‘Due to network constraints, this device can only be used for 1 hour per day.’ Replace the $600 phone with a $6M satellite and you have the current state of the commercial space industry. With this spectrum approval, Audacy will now fundamentally change space communications.”
The company is in the process of pre-selling capacity on its relay satellites in anticipation of service launch in 2020, and on its Silicon Valley and Singapore ground station teleports which will come online early next year.