Space-comm 2022 exhibition at Farnborough in the UK? The casual observer may ask: “Really? – are we a spacefaring nation?” Well, as both a UK citizen and fan of pretty much any interesting technology developments I’m happy to say the plain answer is: “Yes, we are!”
We have our own space agency – UKSPACE, and the UK is very much part of the European Space Agency (ESA), co-operating in many joint space projects. In the mainstream press there was much reporting when the UK government bought a substantial 49% stake in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications company OneWeb (though now divested down to 20%). With our vested interest, learning about the needs for robust communications in critical applications (and hot off the back of some exciting recent engagements), my colleague Peter and I went to the exhibition as attendees this year and we weren’t disappointed.
Our mission? To learn more about the state of play for critical comms in 3 main areas:
- Command of vehicles, equipment on board and/or experiments
- Data from vehicles, equipment on board and/or experiments
- Satcoms: The uplink and downlink of the communications data itself!
This was a well-attended conference with an interesting keynote and panel session very much keeping us believing. Alongside the conference was a substantial exhibition, so plenty of opportunities for further discussion.
Some of the standout challenges that stuck me were the differing conditions posed in the various Satcoms systems:
- GEO – High latency, relatively low bandwidth
- MEO – High(ish) latency, unavailability of satellites from time to time (at this time I’m not aware of anyone planning a ‘full’ MEO constellation
- LEO – Changing paths through the network lead to highly variable latency (jitter)
Applications using the above must deal with these conditions. In the telecoms sector, there are plans for 5G systems to integrate with LEO, and the effects of jitter will be a major concern, something which came up in several conversations we had.
Hot topics at the event, of course, included the fantastic pictures coming back from the James Webb Space Telescope and a number of initiatives including UK space launches – yes actually from our soil. Very interesting also to see sessions focusing on ideas for how the space sector could help with current cost of living and energy issues, with the intent to feed back to government – a recognition that funding for current endeavours must be tied into longer term gains.
There is no doubt that because space missions are so expensive those companies engaging in these projects must ensure that systems such as communications need to be very well tested on the ground. In terms of methodologies, there is work to be done, although it is clear from the pedigree of many companies involved that existing methods for Defense systems may well provide the foundation.