Report on the Satellite Innovation Symposium 2023

Industry's Opinion
During the conference, the organisers conducted interesting surveys of attendees about the current and future development of the satellite industry. This is to give an insight into the issues that are truly interesting to key market players and largely affecting the industry.
Key technologies that showed growth in 2022-2023:
1. Reducing the waiting time for launch into orbit – 58% of votes
2. Use of cloud technologies (artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics) – 15%
3. Inter-satellite communication lines – 15%
4. Earth Observation & Remote Sensing - 10%
Key technologies that will develop in 2023-2024
1. New satellite communication networks – 50%
2. Reducing the waiting time for launch into orbit – 18%
3. Inter-satellite communication lines – 17%
4. Direct-to-Handset – 10%
Main threats to the development of new technologies.
1. Economic recession – 50%
2. Lack of regulation – 26%
3. Low development rate of the new workforce – 15%

Software-Defined Satellites
The production of software-defined payload (SDP) satellites has evolved from one-off projects to full-scale production. The emergence of this type of satellites made it possible to create their digital twins, i.e. a digital copy of the satellite. The digital twin uses data collected directly by the satellite for modelling and analysis. It also makes recommendations for optimising the operation of the physical device. This digital twin interfaces with a software-defined part of the terrestrial network, since SDP satellites are typically an extension of the terrestrial network. Furthermore, the digital twin allows optimizing the satellite construction process and avoiding mistakes by simulating all possible options of real operations in the cloud.
Accordingly, the availability of an easily reconfigurable object in space leads to a reduction in the cost of traffic, allows upgrading technical characteristics after launch and thus reduces the risk. Specifically, a terrestrial communication network is configured or orchestrated, and the configuration is automatically rolled out to the satellite part, since it is an integral part of the terrestrial network.
There is no need in numerous manuals and documents. It only requires a code to be written and tested in the cloud before being uploaded into hardware in orbit. Actually, this is almost an Open Source. Satellites, in fact, become just servers in orbit that gain value by uploading code through an open interface (API).
Standardisation of this process will lead to economies of scale and lower costs. A long time ago, there was an idea to make an analogue of Linux for satellite communications, now this reality is implemented in a single digital form of radio wave.

AI and Cloud
The main challenge when running satellite applications in the cloud is how to reduce the latency in the decision-making process?
For example, each multi spectral imaging satellite generates about 1.5 Tb of data per day. Data volumes are increasing. Users download hundreds of terabytes of raw satellite data every day. As soon as the data is downloaded to earth, processing begins as quickly as possible, and the system waits for the next data upload.
At what stage is the implementation of AI and machine learning in your company?
1. Experiments are underway – 50%.
2. We are just beginning to consider it – 20%.
3. Not part of the business – 20%.
How can AI like ChatGP help the satellite industry in the future?
1. Processing of remote sensing data – 50%
2. Managing the operation of satellites and entire constellations – 20%
Creating digital twins helps in data analysis. Especially now when all satellites are drifting towards digital payloads. The satellite operation problem transfers to a coding problem. Everything is digitised. So, the remote sensing satellite industry nowadays needs data analysts.
How to reduce the time from data collection to delivery to the user? Many market players, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), believe that in-orbit processing is necessary. This means installation of more powerful on-board computers. For now, this is being solved by software on the ground. But data processing in space will greatly speed up the process. Users on ground want more and faster data. But the more powerful is the computer and the more data it processes, the longer the user waits. Data compression and on-board processing solves this problem. The use of satellites in current military conflicts has shown that data is needed in no time – within an hour. Data obtained later contains no value.
Pure process automation in machine-to-machine connections is also needed. This means that, for example, the system will not guess whether there is a vessel in the received image from space or whether it is not a vessel, but will simply request a satellite and receive a better-quality image.
Machine learning is important when working with remote sensing data, as it allows users to detect abnormalities, identify objects and predict events.
The other side of the coin is a separate question about “responsible” AI, when the result is analysed by the system, to avoid absurd or completely irrational answers, which ChatGP sometimes gives even now. But without AI there is no way to move forward, since the merging of databases of various satellite systems and their data sets begins. In this situation, AI and machine learning cannot be avoided.

Sat2Cell (Direct2Device)
The availability of radio frequency spectrum in this market segment is decisive when assessing the feasibility of services. Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) frequencies are global but highly limited. Mobile operator frequencies can be used for satellite transmission, but they are strictly limited by country. Therefore, a satellite operator will have to switch frequencies across countries depending on the spectrum allocated to the national mobile operator, but for low-Earth orbit systems, limited coverage within the country is not a major problem.
When working in this market segment, standards are very important that allow users' phones on the ground to switch between frequencies and bands allocated for cellular communications, plus the MSS spectrum is added.
Let's look at the options for operating this application in 5G networks.
Narrowband communications within the 200 KHz spectrum at the lower end of the frequency range are quite easy to implement within the current architecture of cellular networks.
As part of the new 5G NR (New Radio) standard, a minimum of 5 MHz is needed, since this is already a broadband connection. Here, questions arise about the availability of such capacity in many countries, as well as the possibility of closing a radio link with current technical parameters of smartphones.
5G NB-IoT. Theoretically, it is possible to agree with a number of countries to use their frequency allocations for the Internet of Things via low-orbit satellites, but this will be incredibly difficult. Therefore, this particular segment requires its own MSS spectrum, which enables all devices and sensors to operate within a single network and frequency range directly to the satellite. There are already access points on the market operating in the L and S bands that establish a connection with devices via Bluetooth, but time will pass and devices and telephone modules that work directly with the satellite will appear.
The option of using cellular operator frequencies also has the problem of working in parallel with the terrestrial network. The main condition for using terrestrial spectrum by satellite network - is not causing interference. However, taking into account the propagation of radio waves, it is impossible to achieve seamless switching when moving from urban areas to rural ones. When leaving the city, the terrestrial cellular communication network stops working, but the satellite will be able to connect only after a conditional 100 km guarding distance, in order to be guaranteed not to cause interference to the terrestrial network. Thus, the MSS spectrum is the most convenient for operation. Soon all chipsets used in mobile phones will support MSS frequencies. This is easier than adjusting the distribution of cellular operators' frequencies between the terrestrial and satellite networks.
However, many industry players consider this market to be actually a zero-profit one. Nobody knows the market size. Even industry analysts' estimates range from $10 billion to $40 billion. Despite the fact that the global market volume for cellular operators is trillions of dollars. The service is now technically feasible, but the business model still raises many questions. No one can estimate the market size, and therefore it is impossible to determine the amount of investments in innovations required to ensure the technical and, most importantly, market ability of every phone on Earth to work via satellite in certain conditions.
Another interesting technical issue is the possibility of a stable communication channel from a geostationary (GEO) satellite to an unmodified cell phone. In particular, Inmarsat is working separately with phone manufacturers so that a phone can work both in terrestrial networks and via satellite. Working in the return channel from a phone to a satellite, which is located 36,000 km from Earth, is especially complicated. This can be achieved by using secondary frequencies, ultra-narrowband carriers and other technologies in the return channel to provide power margin and create a stable connection. This is mainly used for text messages. The direct channel uses ultra-powerful satellites (45-55 dBW in the L-band) with huge antennas to create a fairly good margin for signal attenuation: 6-8 dB, and in some cases up to 10 dB. With these parameters, it is possible to use NB-IoT services. Moreover, these narrowband services will be able to operate in the mid-frequency range, i.e. above 1 GHz. However, in order to ensure the maximum number of working devices, it is necessary to develop algorithms for a predictable user experience that can be repeated an infinite number of times, so that these services can be available to millions of phones worldwide. This requires time for narrowband services to begin operating in mid-frequency bands. Now services such as SOS, location transmission, text transmission are working. And new ones will start working in the near future, including voice.
Technically, it has become feasible to achieve operating parameters for phones with an antenna gain of up to minus 6 dBi. At the same time, smartphone manufacturers help a lot to improve the performance of their devices. In iPhone, the antenna gain was initially minus 1 dBi. Improving the parameters cost practically nothing – they just made slight changes to filters, that is all.
It is important to understand that when working in the mid-frequency range there should not be any inflated expectations: 5-15 Mbits, which are available in the direct channel for downloading, are for the entire satellite cell with a diameter of several tens or hundreds of kilometres, and not for a single user.
However, in the current first generation it has almost been possible to close the link for NB-IoT services, but voice will take time.
The use of the spectrum of cellular operators for satellite operation still raises many questions. Especially for national Lawful Intercept requirements. When a satellite operator is allowed to use terrestrial radio frequencies in a particular country, it is expected that all satellite traffic from national subscribers must land in that country. How can this be achieved on a satellite? It is quite a difficult question. Although, this is easier to achieve on low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites due to a limited service area of particular satellite.
In general, regulation is very important. The irony is that cellular and satellite operators have previously spent a lot of time, money and efforts to allocate a huge portion of satellite C-band to terrestrial cellular frequencies. And now they will have to do the opposite – to transfer some of the terrestrial frequencies of cellular operators to satellite ones. This will lead to inevitable conflicts between countries, regions, and applications. But if this market is so huge and amounts to tens of billions of dollars, as analysts say, there simply will be not enough spectrum for everyone. Multi-orbital (GEO/ Non-GEO) and multispectral (L/S/cellular) systems will be needed. This will require extremely precise coordination between frequency owners on a global level.

Satellite constellations
Most Non-GEO constellations have or plan to have global coverage. However, 71% of the Earth is water. Half of the remaining 29% is uninhabited land. Geographically we are speaking about 14% of the Earth's surface, which could potentially provide income for operators. Very similar to a pizzeria in the city, which is open one hour a day, where only 10 tables can bring money. From the point of view of generating income from business in this market, this is a very controversial issue. Especially low-orbit constellations. This is not a business case. There are many successful “user cases”, but they are not necessarily profitable.
Today the main factor identifying successful development of Non-GEO systems is government contracts. But everyone in the market believes that low-Earth orbit systems will eventually be successful, they just need to overcome some problems with hardware supply and launch costs. However, industry players also agree that GEO is becoming a premium market. Like the most expensive property on the first-line coast. It will always be high-priced. Therefore, the future is in a combination of GEO and Non-GEO.
But so far, Non-GEO is mainly developing through government investments. Not only the US, but other governments as well are planning their systems. Governments finance, operators build and try to implement them for commercial purposes – this is the current business model.
There is also the effect of the unknown. The biggest fear for large cellular operators in developed countries now is not their direct competitors- mobile operators, but LEO constellations. Cellular companies are afraid of their fundamentally new offering on the market. That in the future mobile subscribers will potentially be able to escape from territorial lock-in within a specific country to a global satellite operator, i.e. a competitor with whom mobile operators have not dealt before. That is why cellular giants are in such a hurry to include a satellite option in their offerings for global corporate clients.
Another interesting fact. When planning investments in constellations, major telecommunication giants are now paying attention to the sustainable development of space. This becomes an important parameter. An investor will only invest in a system if he understands that it causes minimal harm to the sustainable development of space. Since such investments greatly influence the stock price of the giant itself. This approach differs from government-funded projects. There, if a constellation is needed to ensure the national security, no one really thinks about its impact on the sustainable space development. The paradox is that in order to think about sustainable space development, a company must be commercially successful. Now, all Non-GEO operators in the industry are bankrupt. Therefore, many conference speakers used the slogan “Space is hard.” Which means, “Space is a difficult business.”

Ground Segment
Three years ago, there was an opinion that for the NewSpace (new satellites and orbits) the cost of deploying the ground infrastructure would cost much more than the space part. This is what is happening now. Manufacturing and launch of satellites are becoming cheaper, and the cost of ground equipment (servers, hubs, antennas) is growing.
In Non-GEO constellations ground infrastructure operations questions immediately arise about installing gateway stations and obtaining landing rights, i.e., rights to land signals within the countries. The approach of some LEO constellations operators, voiced at the conference, were quite interesting. In countries where these licenses cannot be obtained, they plan to operate and transmit data using inter-satellite communication links. However, this approach is quite risky from a perspective of obtaining a complete ban on the system operation in certain countries from local governments, as this will be regarded as direct violation of the national Lawful Intercept requirements.
For data transmission across oceans, inter-satellite lines are extremely good and will be actively used, since the data transmission speeds there are higher than in fiber-optic lines. Therefore, trans-oceanic fibre optic systems must be wary of satellite competitors.
The concept of an earth station itself is changing in total. It becomes a data centre. A teleport is turning into a large data centre. Some new innovations coming to market may replace the teleport entirely with fully electronically steered antenna fields for any orbit, satellite, beam or frequency band in different locations within a distributed architecture. Leaving the teleport with the only function of infrastructure maintenance – mechanical actions on radio transmitting equipment and support.
For operations via LEO constellation the construction of a classic teleport with parabolic antennas is questionable. Now satcom industry is moving towards “distributed gateways”, i.e. an architecture with distributed gateway stations. By the way, it is applicable for GEO as well. As data rates increase and multiple gateways provide high system throughput on the ground. Gateways are becoming smaller, smarter and more programmable.
Why is terrestrial satellite communications equipment becoming more expensive? The signal to noise (S/N) ratio is much better in LEO than in GEO. Therefore, higher signal modulations can be used. Ultra-high modulations are embedded into equipment. In addition, the radio equipment itself is being improved. Now the quality of the radio signal coming out of the amplifier is much better than it was 15 years ago. The teleport equipment is replaced by more complex one.
But problems arise. Multiorbitality is good, but mutual operation between networks is currently impossible. The industry needs standards to ensure that satellite ground equipment operates across different satellite networks, just like in cellular communications. Otherwise, we will witness a battle of standards, as happened in personal computers in the 90s (Microsoft and Apple). Now there is one fully operational system in the industry – Starlink. It is like Apple back then. And many market players are asking the question: if now the main operator is Starkink, why not use it as a standard?
What is the key lesson to be learned from Starlink's success at the terrestrial level? Besides the fact that it owns the entire service value chain (from launch to terminal), what is really impressive is the speed with which it adapts to the market and make product changes. This is pure Agile in action!

Evolution of ground segment. Future forecast from a satellite equipment vendor
Initially, in the past, satellites were analogous to a television tower in the city centre. They rebroadcasted similar identical signals with a throughput of tens of Mbit/s. Then high throughput satellites (HTS) came. They can be compared to a cell phone tower, since they reuse frequencies, work with hundreds of thousands of users, provide hundreds of Gbit/s of bandwidth, and ensure capacity redistribution across regions. Then NewSpace came. These are primarily LEO constellations.
At first, LEO constellation operators tried to approach the construction of ground infrastructure as in GEO. But this approach did not work. The active lifetime of a GEO satellite is 10-15 years, so the infrastructure is being built for an object whose technical parameters will not change. In LEO systems, everything is different. They use other type of satellites. They waste fuel to stay in orbit as the Earth's gravitational field exerts a stronger force on them. Therefore, they need replacement every 4-5 years. If we apply approaches to building ground infrastructure similar to GEO, third-generation LEO satellites will not be suitable for the terrestrial segment built 10-15 years ago. In this case, more flexible approaches to the construction of ground infrastructure are required. At the moment, the industry is trying to comprehend this and develop approaches.
When looking at this from a technical point of view, the question “how?” arises. How to do something? But from a business perspective, the main question is the one the user asks: “what?” What can he get? The user does not want to choose between subscription/lease of GEO or NON-GEO. He needs access to a multi-orbit and multi-vendor system that will help solving his problems as efficiently as possible, without going into the essence of which orbit, operator or hub is used. So, when looking at the problem through the user's lens, the vendor has to solve the problem differently.
It is necessary to create a single network that unites various orbits, vendors and ground-based RF equipment. Especially when there is a 5G network around, which has already been adapted and designed for satellite integration.
Convergence or merger of satellite communications and remote sensing is also not excluded, although today these are completely different businesses and ecosystems. Thousands of satellites are launched into low orbit. Why are they so different? Maybe it is worth combining them by connecting communication and remote sensing payloads on one platform? The result will be a smart network in space that will collect data, process it and provide the user with information that allows understanding the essence of things or events. In this regard, it is necessary to determine how to charge and monetise this understanding?
This is not just the provision of communication channels, although the low price per bit of transmitted information is very important for the user. We should look more broadly and create utility, additional value for the user. That is, provide the user with recommendations that can become a financial return from business processes (cost reduction or extra profit). It is necessary to provide the user with received information in a format that influences his financial activities at a minimum cost of traffic.
The industry is moving towards providing smart network data analytics at the interface to create value for the user. The task is not how to get the data, but what valuable things can be done with it? Similar to what happened in cellular networks – the transition from selling minutes to selling tariff plans.
Low earth orbit systems need ground infrastructure partners. They are the ones who can see how traffic flows on the network and understand what changes in ground infrastructure are needed for 2nd and 3rd generation LEO satellites.
Traditional infrastructure, based on hardware and minimal hardware costs, now needs to be digitised and virtualised. It is required to achieve integrated functionality, transferring it to the cloud as much as possible. So that such ground infrastructure can evolve as a space segment and user traffic patterns change to better support new versions of satellites and user networks. When converting network functionality to cloud technologies, it is necessary to arrange the orchestration of processes, since this means many networks, satellites, and types of radio signals. Therefore, the satellite network becomes the network of choice, like in a smartphone. In addition to 3G/LTE/5G cellular frequencies, our phone has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and now satellite. But the smartphone operator, i.e. the subscriber is not involved in choosing a network to connect to. The smartphone itself decides, based on pre-defined scenarios, which application is best to download or operate – via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. The ground infrastructure provider becomes the centre of network orchestration, traffic routing and cybersecurity. This is a difference from the traditional GEO satellite network, where previously the vendor sold a modem, antenna, hub, and that was it.
The market is moving towards a unified environment for traffic transmission, where the subscriber does not even know whether his traffic is traveling on the ground or through space. The business model is changing. Previously, GEO operators provided boxes with Internet access and competed on the price of the solution. Now the industry is moving towards a business model based on actual consumption or transactions – how many bits have been transmitted through the network.
The view on the ground segment is changing. Therefore, VSAT vendors are now developing their dynamic cloud environment, which will be integrated with cellular operators. They transfer elements used on terrestrial networks to satellite ones. The result is a virtual ground infrastructure.
The main idea of this approach is that satellite segment providers do not invest in the purchase of all ground infrastructure from the vendor, but pay monthly fee for using it. Renting infrastructure from a vendor helps satellite operators to optimise the functioning of their network, monetise every step of upgrading satellite constellations when replacing satellite generations with 2nd and 3rd ones. And the more effectively they monetise, the more effectively the terrestrial provider will participate in the return of funds. And this will encourage both players to apply new technologies and improve user experiences on earth and in space.
It is possible that payment for services of satellite providers in the future will be based not on the bytes transferred over the network, but on creating added value or obtaining an economic effect. For example, in agriculture, where a satellite operator supplies the user with crop planning data, payment may be made not for bits of information delivered, but based on an increase in yield per hectare, etc.
This approach opens up enormous opportunities for increasing margins for the operator, and for the user – in terms of access to financial resources. Financial institutions, i.e. banks, like this approach, where every dollar spent on infrastructure generates direct income.
Thus, satellite equipment vendors have 3 options for the future.
1. Hardware manufacture. The profitability of this business is constant and finite. The company is stuck in these conditions, since a drastic reduction in the equipment production cost is impossible, as physical limits of efficiency have already been reached.
2. One can go further up the value chain and offer services. Here, the profitability is slightly higher, but also limited.
3. But if the vendor begins to participate in creating the value of the user’s product, the profitability is absolutely unlimited.
The industry is moving toward ubiquitous, end-to-end connectivity whenever and wherever a user needs it, with unique capabilities to support what is happening at that moment in time, and paying for the connection itself, whether it is on the ground or via satellite.