The world of lower-cost Internet of Things (IoT) just got a bit more crowded. NanoAvionics, in partnership with KSAT (Kongsberg Satellite Services) and Antwerp Space have been awarded 10 million Euros funding by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020, ESA’s ARTES and private investors for a pre-cursor/demonstration of yet another nanosatellite IoT constellation. This constellation will have “one or more” service providers as pilot customers, according to a press release from Nano Avionics, and will offer IoT “constellation-as-a-service” in a business-to-business (B2B) setup for existing and emerging IoT/M2M operators.
“The phenomenal support by both the European Commission and European Space Agency shows the importance of this Global IoT project and their confidence in our world-class partners and NanoAvionics to deliver it,” said Vytenis J. Buzas, chief executive officer of NanoAvionics. “IoT promises to bring new levels of efficiency to transport, manufacturing and other industries but it needs real-time coverage and lowered cost. While we have seen a lot of activities in the IoT/M2M market and a lot of advancement in hardware there is a clear lack of the satellite and ground infrastructure that is required for generating downstream revenue for an IoT market expected to reach USD 3.21 billion by 2023.”
If things go according to plan, two to three NanoAvionics satellites will be launched into low Earth Orbit (LEO) at the end of 2020, supported by KSAT’s ground station network and Antwerp Space’s inter-satellite links using geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites. The final IoT constellation is expected to number 72 satellites with global real-time coverage available towards the end of 2021.
Each satellite will have up to 10U of payload volume, enabling multiple IoT communication providers to place their M2M radios onboard. Antwerp Space and KSAT will provide connectivity of the constellation with the terrestrial Internet, with Antwerp Space inter-satellite links onboard each cubesat providing real-time connection with existing GEO satellite capacity and KSAT providing the ground stations.
The IoT constellation-as-a-service system will provide IoT/M2M service providers a “ten-fold reduction” in the cost of global IoT/M2M communications, says the press release, along with lowering barriers to entry and providing a globally scalable network. ESA’s ARTES program is funding the funding the development of inter-satellite links from smaller satellites in LEO to commercial GEO satellites, providing a real-time link for moving data between LEO satellites and the ground while leveraging the ubiquity of GEO satellite availability.
Earliest anticipated applications for this new IoT constellation-as-a-service will be in the transport and energy industries. The press release also says the network will enable cellular operators to offer network coverage over oceans, a service that so far only exists within developed regions. Since NanoAvionics hasn’t yet declared what IoT firms could be potential customers, it isn’t clear if potential cellular backhaul for IoT devices is simply a notational capability or if the company has one or more hosted payloads lined up already. Most likely candidates are SpaceWorks Orbital and Lacuna Space, who were rideshare/hosted partners onboard a NanoAvionics M6P satellite launched on March 31, 2019.
Being able to host multiple radios/payloads onboard a to-be-built constellation would provide lower overall cost for an IoT entrant, since network, satellite, and launch costs would be distributed across multiple companies. With joint funding being provided by the EU, ESA, and private investors for pre-cursor satellites, demonstration costs and risks for hosted companies would also be lower.