The Satellite Application Catapult, a UK space innovation company, will work with Kepler Communications to build Kepler’s final Internet of Things (IoT) prototype satellite. Kepler will use UK suppliers to build the “TARS” satellite, with the vehicle establishing the baseline for the company’s rollout of 140 satellites in the GEN1 constellation.
TARS will be built through Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) Programme and is designated Mission 5 (IOD 5). The IOD program is funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s investment fund, and the UK space agency, with management provided by Catapult. IOD is designed to accelerate the ability of companies to plan, build, and launch a space mission within 12 to 18 months, reducing the cost of accessing space while promoting the use of UK technology and attracting investment.
As a part of the agreement between the two companies, Kepler will work with Catapult to collaborate with UK technology partners to develop new products and services to use its constellation and will establish a UK office for distribution and sales of these services.
TARS is Kepler’s third prototype satellite. Kepler is using the 3U CubeSat form factor for its satellites, packing in a Ku-band software defined radio (SDR), antennas, and storage into a package weighing in at less than 20 kilograms. The first satellite, KIPP, was successfully launched in January 2018 while CASE is scheduled for launch this summer. TARS will build on the capabilities of KIPP and CASE, delivering narrow-based connectivity services for IoT applications. Anticipated launch of TARS will be in the second or third quarter of 2019, followed by the launch of GEN1 satellites.
By 2020, Kepler expects to have over 10 GEN1 satellites in orbit and will be able to offer store-and-forward data and narrowband services, with “cellular-like” connectivity and smaller-size equipment.
However, Kepler won’t be alone in the sky. At least 18 startups plan to launch over 1,600 satellites for IoT applications. Sky and Space Global already has a trio of pathfinder satellites in orbit and will start launching production hardware in 2019 to build a 200 satellite equatorial belt offering IoT store-and-forward and narrowband services. Australian-based Fleet and Myriota are testing ground hardware and working toward their first satellite launches as well.