[Via Satellite 10-22-2015] German entrepreneur Matthias Spott is developing a European network of small communications satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) using a revamped constellation project from the 1990s. The company, called eightyLEO, is seeking to galvanize the space industry throughout Europe to build and deploy the constellation with an intense focus on end user applications in the commercial sector.
Spott founded eightyLEO in early 2015 as a vehicle to resurrect a German-based company that was working on a “world phone constellation” since the 1990s, similar to that of Iridium and Globalstar. The original company filed with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for spectrum, but never acquired the funding to orbit the constellation. In an interview with Via Satellite, Spott said this company, codenamed “Diamond” to honor Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), had valuable assets that can still be used today to form a commercially competitive satellite network in space.
EightyLEO jumpstarted the program this year, and originally found an investor who was willing to finance the purchase of Diamond’s shares along with six months support to modernize the effort. Diamond’s most valuable asset was its access to spectrum at a time when, according to Spott, other LEO satcom programs lacked this resource. However, the existing shareholder failed to complete the ITU’s regulatory process by filing a Coordination Request (CR) with the ITU. Nonetheless, eightyLEO still saw value in the technology from Diamond, and though no longer buying the company, is seeking to give the idea a fresh start.
“They had some good assets,” said Spott. “The general architecture of the constellation, the technology they always kept up to date. It was state of the art.”
EightyLEO joins other LEO communications projects such as OneWeb, SpaceX and LeoSat in the resurgence of enthusiasm around providing connectivity from Non-Geostationary Orbits (NGSO). Spott said eightyLEO is carefully reevaluating the architecture for the constellation, with hopes of launching test satellites in the second half of 2016. EightyLEO still has access to technology from Diamond through key personnel in the extended project network.
“We know this is a very ambitious timeline, but this is what we are looking at,” he said. “We know that we have the backing of the German national agency [Bundesnetzagentur], and I think this is one of the strong assets we have.”
Spott said eightyLEO has not re-filed with the ITU yet because the company has not yet solidified the general architecture. Spott said eightyLEO’s current priorities focus on raising money and getting demo satellites in orbit.
“The next step after the beginning of next year is to really ramp up our team to do the detailed design and be really specific on the business cases we pick at the end. That will be a play of a couple of million, around $5 to $10 million, and to do research on more technologies. But as soon as it comes to realization, close to $50 million,” he said.
Currently, eightyLEO is evaluating a constellation that would target five main user groups: transport and logistics, automotive, precision agriculture, Machine-to-Machine (M2M), and, as a sideline, government/military and security applications. Spott said the constellation is less focused on targeting underserved populations like that of OneWeb, O3b Networks and partly SpaceX, but more the “80 to 90 percent” of underserved surface area on the Earth.
“We have some ideas, which we are currently following, around launching our own constellation, which is dedicated to the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Because, what we see so far, many of the constellations that have been announced are targeting the [Business-to-Consumer] B2C market. Some are targeting the industrial side as well, but we really think about a dedicated constellation to that,” he said.
The original Diamond idea focused on having 80 SmallSats, but Spott said the name eightyLEO is just a remnant of that phase. He declined to say the number of satellites the future constellation could have. Spott said the mass per satellite would be 50 to 100 kilograms, and that the company is considering Ka and Ku-band frequencies.
In designing the eightyLEO constellation, Spott emphasized the desire to mobilize the European space industry and bring about the “NewSpace” mindset. Entrepreneurial space companies typically focusing on the commercialization of space are commonly referred to as NewSpace, though the term is sometimes considered divisive as many established companies are also turning to the commercial sector with greater interest.
“We are really looking at how far we can build an industry and services group collecting the different pieces of companies that are already here at universities. We have great technology and there are some spinoffs that are very attractive that we worked with in the original eightyLEO approach. So, we really see at this point how we could commercialize and industrialize the activities and become a European player in that field as an engineering and product supplier,” he said. “[But] we don’t want to stop at the supply side of it. We really think about applications.”
EightyLEO is spearheading this in part through an initiative called White-Rocket, which centers around an event to take place in Berlin, Germany next year focusing on applications from space. As the company confirms applications for the constellation, it will move closer to the implementation phase. Spott said the company does not have a launch date for the constellation yet, but expects these details will be forthcoming.
“Europe has a great technology base, which is very valuable for all the NewSpace activates when it comes to standard components, miniaturization, great hardware-software solutions — you have all the things you need to make NewSpace happen,” he said.
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