Recent tests have shown VSAT antennas to be capable of tracking LEO satellites to provide higher bandwidth to ships operating in the Arctic
Cobham Satcom and Kepler Communications have successfully tested ship antenna connectivity over Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.
Trials were carried out on research vessel Polarstern around 85o N in the central Arctic, well beyond the range of traditional VSAT services on geostationary satellites, which orbit around the equator.
During the trials, Polarstern received bandwidth of up to 40 Mbps on the downlink and 120 Mbps on the uplink from Kepler’s satellites.
Two augmented Cobham Satcom Sea Tel antennas successfully sent and received data from the vessel, which is home to the MOSAiC scientific expedition. Kepler’s two polar-orbiting satellites are being used for 12 months to transfer data from the scientists on the expedition.
Cobham Satcom senior director for global strategy and development Matt Galston said the trials showed that LEO-based VSAT has potential commercial applications at polar lattitudes.
“By starting with a small number of satellites in operation, Kepler are able to focus more directly on solving problems for the end-user,” he said.
Lack of connectivity in polar latitudes and issues with reliability could result in loss of communications and data loss during transmission among other potential problems.
To overcome these issues and promote further commercial adoption of LEO-based VSAT in maritime, Kepler and Cobham have formed a strategic partnership.
“Our collaboration demonstrates how some solutions come through partnerships, new commercial models and a shared goal,” said Mr Galston.
Together, Cobham and Kepler will offer User Terminal-as-a-Service (UTaaS) for maritime VSAT over LEO satellites.
UTaaS will involve a monthly operational fee for connectivity, technical support and terminal supply and installation.
These two companies have confirmed Kepler LEO satellites can be tracked by Cobham’s Sea Tel and Sailor antennas.
Kepler plans to invest in expanding the LEO constellation using nanosatellite telecommunications solutions for global communications.
It is up against competition for LEO-based VSAT with OneWeb also testing its early constellation of LEO satellites and other companies, such as Leosat and Google planning their own.
LEO technology is not new in maritime communications, with another satcoms company, Iridium, having two constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit. However, these satellites offer L-band communications, meaning lower bandwidth than VSAT.
Iridium and OneWeb have formed a partnership of their own to jointly provide VSAT and L-band communications using LEO satellites.