Editorial 01: Significance of successful demonstrations of intersatellite optical communications (KUZUOKA)

On June 10, SEAKR Engineering announced that it had succeeded in carrying out an intersatellite optical communications experiment in a project being conducted by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was reported that optical communications were successful for 40 minutes between two Mandrake 2 smallsats (named “Able” and “Baker”). The distance between these two satellites was 114 km, and the amount of data transferred was 288 Gb.

The Mandrake 2 satellites were launched by SpaceX on June 30, 2021. The systems were organized by SEAKR Engineering (currently under Raytheon), the buses were manufactured by Astro Digital, and the optical communications terminals were manufactured by SA Photonics (currently under CACI). This was basically realized by combining standard products. In other words, the significance of this project is not the hardware within each piece of hardware itself—it’s the demonstration of intersatellite optical communications technology as a whole. According to DARPA, the original purpose of the Mandrake 2 satellites is to demonstrate the points below, and the results are to be used for the Space Development Agency (SDA) and other organizations within the U.S. government.

  • lPointing, line establishment, partner satellite tracking algorithms
  • lEvaluation of transmission speed and bit error rate
  • lEvaluation of optical link performance both among satellites and between satellites and ground stations

The maximum distance for such intersatellite communications is 2,400 km.

In the past, Aerospace Corp. had experimented with communications among OCSD AeroCube cubesats in 2019, and NASA’s GSFC had experimented with its LCRD (Laser Communications Relay Demonstration) in 2021. Also, in Japan, based on the OICETS orbital experiment, the LUCAS optical communications terminal for communications among orbiting satellites and geostationary satellites was developed, and preparations are underway to install that onto JAXA’s ALOS-3. 

So, what is the difference between these past intersatellite optical communications instances and the Mandrake 2 intersatellite optical communications of this time? Well, according to my understanding, it is the difference between the development of a single optical communications terminal and the final development of a “space mesh,” which is a network that covers broader areas of space. In the past, it was meaningful to develop an optical communications terminal itself. However, manufacturers such as SA Photonics, Mynaric, and Tesat are currently selling optical communication terminals as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts. In addition, the SDA has already issued an optical communication terminal standard for the Tranche 1 constellation. Against this backdrop, the era of experimenting with one-on-one satellite optical communications is over, and the emphasis is now shifting toward demonstrating the technology required to realize a “space mesh.”

In fact, DARPA is preparing demonstration experiments one after another, such as POET and LINCS, in addition to Mandrake 2. These are technical demonstrations for DARPA’s BlackJack project, and BlackJack itself is a step toward developing into the SDA’s Tranche transport layers. However, for the time being, the SDA plans to launch 20 Tranche 0 satellites (part of BlackJack) this fall and 126 Tranche 1 satellites in 2024. In particular, when it comes to Tranche 1, all satellites are to be equipped with intersatellite optical communications terminals, with commands/telemetry for orbiting satellites such as Earth observation satellites. The Tranche project aims to realize a “space mesh” that enables real-time operation by communicating mission data among satellites and visualization satellites in orbit, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

When the “space mesh” is completed, it is imagined that use of space, including the observation of Earth from orbit, will be changed drastically. So now the questions are: Will the U.S. government alone build and maintain the “space mesh,” and how can various countries and the private sector participate in the construction and maintenance of this important infrastructure? Against this backdrop, we will pay close attention to future discussions and the movements of each country/company.

Editorial 02: A Report on Participation at ASIA SATELLITE BUSINESS WEEK (OISHI) (see separate report)

We attended the Asia Satellite Business Week event. A report on participation is being issued separately. Please take a look. The next (second) ASBW event will be held from June 7 to 9, 2023.

Editorial 03: Regarding the use of satellite imagery during times of military conflict (MURAKAMI)

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on Feb. 24, extended into April, the conflict began to take on the appearance of a long-term war of attrition, in contrast to what was expected to be a short engagement.

I think that one of the characteristics of this conflict is the direct attacks using artillery and the utilization of satellite imagery. If you look at the situations of Mariupol and Severodonetsk, which have been in conflict now for a long time, you can clearly see from satellite imagery that their respective areas have been completely destroyed. Compare this in contrast to, for example, the 2003 Iraq War and the 2001 war in Afghanistan, during which such information was not so accurate or timely.

In order to understand such situations, many images from U.S. and other Western civilian satellites are used. However, in the Ukraine conflict, the number of satellites in use has since increased, along with resolution, making it possible to accurately and frequently grasp information. Although it is not yet possible to know how this war will settle itself, it will be impossible to erase who actually did what. The evidence is in the data. For example, the entire start to finish of loading grain onto a ship can be grasped from satellite imagery. So, Russia will eventually have to be accountable for itself.

Another use of satellite imagery is to provide the Ukrainian side with the position of Russian troops during actual warfare. Ukraine, which is inferior in artillery, has held up so far because it receives timely information on troop positions. Although it might be difficult to provide information via military satellites to Ukraine, which does not fall under NATO, other information can be used to support efficient battle operations by relaying the position of Russian troops in near real time, centered on information from civilian satellites. It seems that the U.S. military intends to assist attack targets by combining satellite data, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawks, and other drones, but in the case of Ukraine, it is considered that the position of the enemy is being understood via satellite data, and the specific attack targets involve drones. So, we believe that this capability has covered the deficit caused by being inferior in artillery.

In terms of Japan, the country is not very good at utilizing information, and the utilization of information for space defense is also not very active. On the other hand, the U.S. military has been utilizing information gleaned from space for many years and has a solid foundation in doing so. Regarding the utilization of space information, it can be said that it is necessary to study the current case of Ukraine and consider how Japan should obtain information from space in the future, along with how to utilize such information as a response to emergency.

If the movement of the U.S. to support Ukraine becomes sort of a specialists’ situation, it could be necessary for Japan to prepare things for itself to some extent.

In Japan, there is the opinion that it would be good to buy data from civilian satellite service providers, but in the event of an emergency, this is not the best way to obtain information in a timely manner. Thus, against this backdrop, it might be time to think about what the satellites currently in development in Japan should be used for.

Global Space Business Monthly News WSBW 2022

June 2022 Space Business-related Topics by Business Position/Market Field

OldSpace, etc.Mixed space, etc.NewSpace, etc.
Satellites■ Thuraya opens new office in Singapore
■ Intelsat next-generation network integrates with OpenSpace™ platform
■ Euroconsult publishes extended C-band report
■ Intelsat’s FlexMaritime service connects more than 10,000 vessels
■ Inmarsat satellite tests signal for replacing lost UK navigation capability
■ SEAKR Engineering successfully demos optical communications on DARPA’s Mandrake 2 satellites
■ China proposes satellite network sharing
■ Northrop Grumman demonstrates Mynaric laser terminals for military constellation
■ ORBCOMM satellite ST 2100: Suitable for IoT applications
■ China’s new Fengyun meteorological satellite: Opening up the sharing of data products to the world
■ Viasat shareholders approve acquisition of Inmarsat
■ China: Simultaneous launch of new batch of 3 Yaogan-35 remote-sensing satellites
■ Telesat requests UK license to connect Lightspeed terminals
■ Avanti and Viasat sign long-term agreement targeting energy sector
■ Open Cosmos signs development contract with ESA to progress key elements of NanoMagSat smallsat constellation concept (Fig.3)
■ Andesat and SES to offer enhanced connectivity solutions over the Andean region
■ Redwire wins contact to manufacture Link-16 antennas for national security LEO constellation (Fig.4)
■ ThinKom + Carlisle IT combine tech to offer new phased-array satellite antenna for regional jet IFC (Fig.5)
■ Hughes and OneWeb deploy high-speed internet for U.S. military at remote Arctic base
■ Omnispace and NCINGA develop 5G NTN solution
■ Blue Canyon looks to demonstrate small-satellite performance at very low altitude (Fig.9)
■ Starlink regains permission to operate in France
■ Musk reportedly extends timeline for potential Starlink IPO
■ Astra space: Significantly cheaper for TROPICS-1, but results disappointing
■ Starlink and OneWeb reach spectrum coordination plan
■ Aerospacelab builds “mega factory” in Belgium
■ Planet reveals $146M NRO award and quarterly revenues
■ Oneweb and Stellar Blu deliver LEO in-flight connectivity on Boeing 777 test flight (Fig. 10)
■ Epsilon3 raises funding for space project management platform
■ SpaceX warns 5G plan would deny Starlink usage
■ OneWeb to resume launches in 4Q
■ Xplore completes satellite testing of Microsoft Azure Orbital
■ ICEYE expands business to offer complete SAR missions
Launches■ Arianespace narrows Vega C and Ariane 6 maiden flight windows
■ China to launch next crewed mission so as to build space station by year-end (Fig.1)
■ First launch of Ariane 6 postponed to 2023
■ House Armed Services bill proposes $75M for rapid space launch activities
■ South Korea becomes seventh nation to successfully put satellites into orbit via their own rocket (Fig.2)
■ New European rocket “Vega C” scheduled to fly for first time on July 7
■ First Ariane 5 flight of 2022 launches two satellites for Asia-Pacific
■ China to begin normal commercial launches in 2024 at Wenchang, Hainan, for its Tiangong “Heavenly Palace” intl. space station
■ Long March 2C launches 9 navigation test satellites for Chinese automobile manufacturer (Fig.6)
■ Psyche launch delay forcing revamp of rideshare mission
■ Chinese commercial launch firm Expace raises $237M
■ Electron launches NASA lunar cubesat
■ Spaceflight successfully debuts latest OTV, Sherpa-AC (Fig.11)
■ Xenesis signs launch pact with Evolution Space
■ Spaceflight performs successful deorbiting via drag sails (Fig.12)
■ Momentus increasingly pessimistic about first Vigoride mission (Fig.13)
■ SpaceX succeeds in launching Egypt’s “Nilesat 301” communications satellite
■ SpaceX performs three launches within two days
■ Canada’s first rocket factory opened by SpaceRyde
■ SpaceX rocket launches 53 Starlink satellites into orbit
Others■ Speedcast adds 13 GB of new capacity to platform
■ US/Japan plant cultivation experimentation: For the realization of space agriculture
■ Gilat receives F/O orders for LEO constellation gateway support
■ China completes world’s first 1/2.5M-scale lunar geological map
■ France joins Artemis Agreement
■ House armed services panel calls on DoD to buy commercial space technology and data
■ Northrop Grumman to build multi-level space mesh networking prototype to enable DOD’s vision for connected battlespace
■ U.S. Dept. of Commerce cuts export rights of firms that sent 3D satellite blueprints to China
■ James Webb Space Telescope hit by tiny meteoroid
■ ESA and NASA to cooperate on Earth science and lunar mission
■ China’s deep space exploration laboratory starts new stage of operation and full-scale construction
■ House expenditure subcommittee approves funding increase for Pentagon space programs
■ Euroconsult anticipates growing demand for last-mile logistics
■ House Armed Services Committee approves National Defense Authorization Act for FY2023
■ Telespazio to play key role in satellite servicing market
■ NASA to purchase 5 more Crew Dragon missions from SpaceX
■ NASA signs contracts with two private companies in charge of developing and manufacturing next-generation spacesuits (Fig. 7)
■ Cargo Dragon mission postponed to investigate potential propellant leak
■ Taiwan’s director of science and technology visits SpaceX and proposes to set up parts test center in Taiwan
■ Speedcast plotting major satellite capacity expansion (Fig.8)
■ X Prize Foundation studying active debris removal competition
■ New generation of satellite terminals to support LEO constellation (Fig.14)
■ South Korean ground station operator Contec raises Series C round for global expansion
Japan■ Mitsubishi Electric develops world’s first optical receiver that integrates a space optical communications function with a reception direction detection function (Fig.15)
■ 20+ kinds of amino acids in sand brought back by “Hayabusa 2” asteroid explorer
■ “JAXA LABEL”: New brand brings the charm of aerospace to life on the ground (Fig.16)
■ NTT DOCOMO, NTT, 3 vendors to collaborate on 6G demonstration experiment
■ Pasco: New base for data processing in Niigata
■Japanese venture companies involved in space scramble to “de-Russia” themselves in search of domestic rockets■ Topcon releases ICT construction system compatible with multi-GNSS
■ Mach Corporation develops radiation-resistant color camera
■ Synspective + Addvalue form partnership + plan to strengthen EO services with fast customer response (Fig.17)
■ Sony launches space laser-based communications business
■ Komatsu expands sales of agricultural bulldozers in Indonesia
■ WARPSPACE: Satellite optical communications network by spring 2025 (Fig.18)
■ Comprehensive cooperation agreement concluded between Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture and SPACE WALKER
■ Tokio Marine: Fraud detection in fire insurance via AI
■ Saguri to use app to increase efficiency of planting surveying via satellite data
■ Cooperation between WARPSPACE and Leaf Space (Fig.19)
■ Panasonic Industry: Triples sales in FY2014
■ Furuno Electric and IOT cost reduction of ships: Domestic navigation service to be launched by year-end
■ Nagase: Aerospace quality control standards, demand development