Each year, Via Satellite magazine and its readers recognize a handful of technologies for either their notable level of innovation, their contribution to the development of the space and satellite industries as a whole, their influence on global events, their notable success in the market, or a combination of these achievements. We’ve nominated six standout technologies for our 2022 Satellite Technology of the Year Award, representing a wide range of products and services in connectivity, imagery, software, and emergency services. The 2022 list also includes our first nomination of a technically non-satellite company.
The winner of the award will be determined by a public vote combined with the votes of the Via Satellite editorial board. The winner will be announced during the Via Satellite awards luncheon on Wednesday, March 15, at the SATELLITE 2023 conference in Washington, D.C. Voting is open online from Feb. 22 to 12 p.m. on March 14 and can be accessed at satellitetoday.com/vote. Here are the 2022 Technology of the Year nominees.
Apple iPhone 14 with Emergency Satellite Messaging
There have long been suspicions and rumors that the Apple iPhone could eventually be a satellite device. Each new iteration of the iPhone came with whispers: “Will this be the one?” This is now a reality. With the iPhone 14, Apple brought life-saving emergency text messaging to the world’s most popular handheld device, via satellite. The service is already operational and making an impact. When the service officially saved its first life, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, BBC, and hundreds of other leading cable news shows ran with it as a top story.
To make this difficult satellite-to-cell connection possible, Apple designed and built custom components and specific software and algorithms so that iPhone 14 antennas can connect to the unique frequencies of satellites. It also built ground infrastructure to take data packets relayed from a satellite to emergency services. Apple even built an infrastructure for message relay centers to send critical information to emergency crews when local emergency response infrastructure is not able accept texts, to ensure the service is always available. The company is making a large investment of $450 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to support the infrastructure for the service, and has done a lot of work behind the scenes to make this service a reality.
Apple has the money to invest in its own satellite network, and keeping technologies in-house has been a cornerstone of Apple’s corporate culture. Yet the company made the decision to go with an external partner Globalstar, with an existing satellite network. Via Satellite recognizes this as an extraordinary decision because it brings a much-needed technology to market faster, saving more actual lives today than potential lives in the future. Apple is recognized for the design and implementation of the texting service on such a widely distributed platform. With the iPhone 14 satellite emergency messaging, Apple is bringing a life-saving technology to the masses and raising the profile of what is possible with satellite technology.
Astrocast Satellite IoT Solution
IoT technologies and services are problem solvers to the core. Whether the problem is massive in scale like reducing resource consumption for a global shipping fleet, or as granular as saving someone from an hour of physical labor in a dangerous environment, IoT gives users the ability to enact substantial changes across an entire network of “things,” or devices. Like all connective technologies, IoT requires connectivity. Cell-based terrestrial networks currently cover about 15 percent of the world. So, when Astrocast launched its new bidirectional satellite IoT (SatIoT) solution to connect IoT devices outside of terrestrial network range, they knew they were targeting a massive market.
Through the use of 14 nanosatellites that follow LEO, Sun-Synchronous and Equatorial Orbits for greater redundancy, Astrocast operates a global IoT network offering connectivity, asset tracking, telemetry and telematics for multiple business sectors. The unique orbital arrangement provides the satellites with extra capacity in orbit. The IoT service itself is unique in that it is bidirectional, meaning that Astrocast has the ability to send commands back to assets, rather than just receive data, enabling more complex use cases.
While there are several satellite companies competing in the IoT space, Via Satellite is recognizing Astrocast’s SatIoT solution for its unique design structure and ability to open up new use cases for the industry. One example is how Astrocast’s work in IoT enabled the company to sign a multi-million-dollar contract with worldwide supply chain logistics tech company ArrowSpot to start mass production of an ArrowSpot ArrowTrack satellite-powered device to track high value cargo with high security and temperature control requirements throughout the global supply chain.
Atlas Space Operations “Freedom” Ground-Software-as-a-Service
Atlas Space Operations’ proprietary Ground-Software-as-a-Service (GSaaS) platform, Freedom, automates communications processes, pre-plans satellite passes and eliminates the need for satellite owners to act as ground station operators. It is entirely cloud-based, utilizing Amazon Web Services, and data-driven. Freedom leverages more than 1 billion data points, organized and presented in an upgraded user interface allowing customers to determine if a pass is a success or a failure, and gain visibility across the entire network. These features allow government agency end-users to easily scale and adapt their operations.
By developing Freedom, Atlas aimed to solve a common challenge in the satellite ground systems world – overcoming the rigidity and complexity of legacy systems. In the days before cloud-based GSaaS, most ground technologies did not allow data sharing unless customers invested in building their own complex software solutions to accommodate this need. The Freedom software, coupled with the Atlas team of software experts, is compatible with any ground site hardware.
Via Satellite is recognizing Atlas for its innovation in the cloud and for sustained success that has contributed directly to the rapid and widening adoption of GSaaS. The Freedom platform received a major government endorsement in 2017 when Atlas signed a multi-million dollar contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support the agency’s National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) missions throughout a multi-year term. Since then, Atlas reports it has completed 52,000 passes for NOAA with more than 98 percent availability, with low latency of under 26 seconds – a feat that stands out in today’s competitive ground systems market.
Lynk Satellite Direct-to-Cell Service
It should be more widely known how truly difficult it is to connect a satellite directly to a handheld phone. This type of connection requires physics-bending engineering to an almost imaginary level. The high speeds at which satellites move in space, combined with their distance to Earth, creates a “doppler shift” effect producing significant timing and connectivity challenges. Though satellite-connected handsets have existed for decades, they have been limited mostly to basic voice and low-speed, high-latency emergency services for niche end-users (mostly industry and military) in regions without terrestrial infrastructure.
Lynk wants to bring satellite-to-mobile-phone technology to the mass market by bringing satellite-powered two-way broadband-speed connections to Android, iPhone and other leading consumer cellular and IoT devices. Lynk solved the doppler shift and timing problems, creating a 3GPP-compliant service that tricks cell phones into thinking that Lynk’s satellites are actually ground-based mobile towers. Thus, the cell phone will interact with the satellite as if it is part of a standard terrestrial cellular network.
Lynk is rolling out service in Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) bands between 617 and 960 MHz, as well in higher frequencies, such as L-, S- and C-band. The company is targeting up to 4 billion potential customers around the world. These are either people who experience several periods of service disconnection per year, or people who still do not own a modern smartphone because there is no affordable connectivity today where they live or work. While Lynk isn’t the only company battling in the potentially massive satellite-to-cell market, Via Satellite is recognizing the company for its unique approach to overcoming the doppler shift effect, and demonstrating the technology ahead of competitors.
Maxar Technologies Satellite Imagery
Remember one year ago when you knew everything about that massive 40-mile-long Russian military convoy bearing down on Kyiv, Ukraine? You knew how far and fast it moved each day, and exactly where and when it stalled out because you saw images of it every day on the news. Ukrainian defense forces saw those images, too, and later credited satellites as their most valuable tool in the fight against the invasion. If you look closely at a vast majority of these images, you’ll notice the Maxar Technologies logo stamped in the corner.
As Russia’s military gathered on Ukraine’s border in early February, Maxar’s satellites stood ready to collect a flood of time-stamped imagery and visual intelligence data that would underpin reporting by nearly all global news outlets. This allowed journalists to both report military activity with greater accuracy, and support allegations of war crimes, in particular the massacre in Bucha, Ukraine, with visual data. When the Russian government refuted these accusations, Maxar’s satellite data verified the date, time, and location of images showing the horrors left behind by the Russian advance. This had a tremendous effect on public awareness and perception of the war.
Via Satellite is recognizing Maxar’s optical imagery for both its role in raising public awareness of the war in Ukraine, enhancing the accuracy of battlefield news coverage in what could be argued as the greatest leap since televisions brought live footage of the Vietnam War to American living rooms, and in elevating the value of satellite visual data in a humanitarian crisis event.
Speedcast “TrueBeam” Intelligent Automation Solution
Throughout history, leaps in satellite service speeds and performance have been a direct result of innovation in satellite bandwidth optimization. In the early stages of a renaissance not seen since the introduction of 4G, optimization technologies are taking advantage of today’s more flexible and integrated satellites, as well as advancements in computing power.
Speedcast’s TrueBeam solution goes beyond just riding the wave of innovation and collecting new tools in a new toolset. It is a network optimization solution, based on its own algorithm, that acts as a unique centralized capacity and load-balancing system. Truebeam re-evaluates a user’s network loadings once per hour, every hour of every day of the week, and makes automated and intelligent network changes to enable more efficient bandwidth use.
Combining smart beam-switching and SD-WAN traffic-steering, TrueBeam essentially gives Speedcast’s customers in the maritime world the ability to seamlessly maintain communications while moving in and out of a satellite beam’s coverage area, even when encountered with challenges like rain fade, line-of-sight blockage, network congestion, or unexpected itinerary changes. On top of that, TrueBeam technology is TDMA platform-agnostic and can be used as an overlay to whatever platform is being implemented by the customer. It is already seeing widespread adoption and receiving multiple endorsements in the maritime market. Via Satellite recognizes Speedcast’s TrueBeam optimization for its unique engineering, power, use of automation, and emphasis on interoperability. VS