[NIHONBASHI SPACE WEEK] The Future of Space Communications Networks: Leading Companies Discuss New Prospects and Technology Challenges
NIHONBASHI SPACE WEEK, a conference event organized by Cross U, was held again this year from November 27 to December 1. The momentum of the event was expanding day by day. Warpspace also exhibited a booth, with CSO Mori moderating a panel discussion and Business Development’s Kunii making a pitch.
Front-runners from various orbits talk about the future of space communication networks
About 300 people attended the global panel session moderated by Mori, “Let’s Talk about the Future of the Telecommunication Network Expanding to Outer Space ~ The Fusion of Terrestrial and Non-Terrestrial Network~”. The panel discussion included Bill Carlin, Satellite Solutions Lead, №2 at AWS Aerospace & Satellite; Wen Cheng Chong, co-founder and CSO of Kepler Communications, Inc., Yuma Minowa, President of Space Compass’ Space RAN Division. Mori as the reason for bringing together these members, and Mori said,
All companies are proposing network services in space, including AWS for cloud services and edge computing on the ground and in space, Kepler Communications provides LEO, SPACE COMPASS provides GSO (Geostationary Orbit) and HAPS, and Warpspace deploys satellites in MEO to provide services. By bringing together network operators from these different layers above the ground, we wanted to have a cross-hierarchical discussion about communication networks extending into space.
Classical communications satellites are located in a GSO, which is an orbit that is geostationary relative to the Earth’s surface. However, because GSOs are far from the Earth’s surface, satellite communications using GSOs suffer from insufficient communication latency and speed, and satellite systems (antennas and batteries) must be particularly large, making satellite development costs high.
On the other hand, LEO and MEO are closer to the Earth’s surface than GSO, so the area of the Earth’s surface that can be covered by a satellite (coverage) is smaller, but the satellite can be deployed at a lower cost. This has led to an increase in the number of new operators entering the commercial satellite market and a trend toward launching smaller satellites into LEO. SpaceX’s “Starlink” project is emblematic of this trend, as SpaceX plans to cover LEO’s weak point of limited coverage by deploying a constellation of large numbers of communication satellites in LEO.
MEO is also more distant than LEO and can cover a much larger area of the Earth’s surface than LEO satellites. In other words, MEO has characteristics intermediate between GSO and LEO. Therefore, in each orbit, the coverage of a single satellite, the number of satellites deployed, and the frequency of communication with the ground will differ, and the characteristics of the networks provided will accordingly differ.
Moderated with this intention in mind, the panel discussion was an intense discussion on the future of communication networks in space.
Technical Issues for Space Communications Networks
First on the agenda are the KPIs of the space communications network players. For these, the companies commonly cite cybersecurity, low latency, and connection stability. These challenges are not significantly different from networks built with fiber optics on the ground. However, how they can be improved differs greatly between terrestrial communications, which are wired together, and space. Examples include establishing and maintaining communications through delicate orbit control of communications satellites and antenna operations, and information processing onboard computers (OBCs) aboard spacecraft. Space communications in space requires a different approach than on the ground, even if the issues are the same.
On the other hand, as the second agenda item, the panel also discussed the possibility of collaboration among the companies that provide services at different layers, such as LEO, MEO, and GSO, and what can be achieved through such collaboration. In the panel discussion,
The Internet has many nodes, which complement each other. For example, an independent network with only LEOs would not provide redundancy if one part of it were to fail.
Also, by connecting the networks of each orbit, it may be possible to provide optimized network services for any form of communication by taking advantage of the strengths of each network.
The opinion was raised that, and to build such a system,
Although each company has a different system for each network, the subsystem that establishes the connection must be able to operate using a unified method. For this purpose, a de facto standard or official standard for establishing connections would be necessary.
All the speakers agreed on this point. The need for such a standard has long been recognized, and this gathering of players providing services in different orbits reaffirmed the importance of such a standard.
The final topic of discussion was a comprehensive discussion on what kind of services the Space Internet should provide in the future. What’s important is to sort out the similarities and differences with terrestrial networks. Naturally, the space Internet should aim for high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency communications like Beyond 5G, which is attracting attention as the next-generation information and communications infrastructure, and secure connections should always be established between each node.
Ideally, the Internet Protocol, which is the standard communication standard currently in use on the ground, should be used as the communication standard for this purpose. However, unlike on the ground, in space, there is no physical connection through an optical network, so it is not possible to use the Internet Protocol optimized for the optical fiber network on the ground. Therefore, it is difficult to apply the Internet protocols optimized for terrestrial optical fiber networks to networks in space.
While optical communication networks in space are advancing at a tremendous pace, new issues that need to be resolved because they are different from terrestrial networks are also becoming clear. We will keep our eyes on the industry to see what each company is doing to address these issues and who will make breakthroughs.