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Technology Update - e3 systems

Technology Update with e3 systems

Unfortunately, our “Formentor Revisited” cycling event, in aid of Yachting Gives Back (YGB), had to be postponed on the 1st April, due to appalling weather with very high winds and torrential rain.  We have re-arranged for Friday 22nd April, before the start of the MYBA and Palma Shows.  As mentioned in my column last month, this is a repeat of our 2021 Spring Cycling Event which is why it is called “Formentor Revisited.”  Hopefully the weather will be kinder for the revisit to this stunning location.  YGB are now actively supporting the Ukrainian refugee crisis as well as continuing their commitment to help those in need closer to home, both of which are issues close to our hearts.

E3s_YachtingGivesBack_ScholeyPhoto credit – Christopher Scholey

OneWeb LEO Satellite launch problem resolved by collaboration and cooperation!

 Last month, I also reported that OneWeb, one of the new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations, was having to look for a new launch vehicle for their remaining three scheduled launches to complete their constellation.  They were forced to suspend their launches with Arianespace from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan due to the war.

I reported that there were only two other options that could launch this payload, one of which was SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9, a direct broadband competitor, as the CEO of both SpaceX and Starlink is Elon Musk.

I am pleased to say Elon Musk has quickly agreed, in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, to help OneWeb out in the face of the Russian aggression. He tweeted that “SpaceX will do the right thing for OneWeb, even though they are a competitor.”  Good man!

Can I use a Starlink terminal on my yacht?

starlink

This is the most common question we are being asked this year. It’s a very attractive proposition with the cost of a residential terminal at €639 plus shipping, and the airtime at €99 per month plus local regulatory fee, with 200Mbps performance.  Several yachts I know have already purchased a terminal.  I will explain the current limitations for maritime use, which will be resolved over time, currently estimated to be around 4 to 5 years.

Coverage over the sea

The satellites are orbiting globally, and a ground station is required in your vicinity. The same satellite that your terminal can see in the sky must also be able to see a ground station at the same time, throughout its entire pass over your sky.  If the satellite loses view of either your terminal or the ground station, then your connection is lost until the terminal can find another satellite that can see both. There are no ground stations over the sea so the satellites must communicate with other satellites that can see the ground stations. To do this the satellites have to be equipped with laser Inter Satellite Links (ISL) and this first phase of Starlink satellites do not have ISLs.

Laser links alleviate the need for ground stations but the laser link hardware itself currently costs 15 times more than the entire satellite.  So, the costs to deliver out in the ocean will be exponential versus land with far fewer users to compensate for that cost.  Over time the second phase of satellites with ISL will be launched and the first phase decommissioned.

Currently Iridium is the only satellite constellation that has deployed cross-links and they are not laser based.

Regulatory issues

There are regulatory issues too. Grounds stations or not, Starlink will need regulatory approval from each country to connect with terminals in that country.  Major countries will approve first, but it will take a while to get everywhere.  Not surprisingly Russia has already made it illegal to use Starlink.  The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted SpaceX permission to fly only 12,000 Starlink satellites but the company has filed paperwork with an international regulator to increase that to 42,000! They may not get permission as there are many objectors, including NASA.

A maritime antenna is required

twin-leo-dome-config

A gyro stabilised antenna or a flat electronically steered panel will be required to use the service on a yacht. The antenna will need to handle the pitch and roll of the yacht and at the same time track multiple satellites that are passing across the sky above. When one satellite has passed overhead and is disappearing over the horizon the antenna needs to pick up and lock onto the next satellite for the connection to continue. Conventional antenna manufacturers of gyro stabilized dishes in radomes are specifying two or three domes for LEO satellite tracking. One to hold the first satellite and track it to the horizon and the second to pick up the next new satellite and the first then to go and pick up the third satellite.  The third radome antenna is to be installed and used as a backup if one of the two domes fails!

kymeta-oneweb-test

A flat panel can do that all in a single panel. The only panel in the commercial domain, that is proven and maritime tested, that can track LEO satellites on a vessel is the Kymeta panel, which is being implemented on the OneWeb LEO constellation (photo of Kymeta test at Airbus LEO test range near Toulouse).

 The current Starlink residential terminal costs about $2,500-3,000 to build and they sell at a loss for €639.  It is unable to handle even a small movement without resetting and re-establishing a connection.  A maritime terminal whether conventional or flat is unlikely to be any cheaper than today’s VSAT antennas and could possibly be more expensive.

starlink-tabl

We have been asked if the current Starlink residential terminal can be moved from one fixed location to another, such as from the dock at the home berth and then redeployed on the dock in another port. This is currently not possible in the beta test phase as they need to be registered at a specific location, but we think there is some development here coming from demand in the USA from the RV community.

The cost for a maritime antenna and maritime airtime

Regarding cost, we have predicted that a Starlink maritime antenna will be a lot more expensive than the loss-making residential antenna, but we also expect the airtime to be a lot more expensive for various reasons.  It costs more in frequency spectrum usage for a satellite to deliver the same speeds to a moving terminal versus a stationary terminal.  It costs more to deliver to a smaller antenna than a larger antenna.  Also, as already mentioned, the cost to deliver the service at sea, covering two thirds of the earth surface, when the laser ISLs are deployed will be so much higher and there will only be tens of thousands of users at sea, the equivalent of one small city, to pay for it, so clearly this will make it expensive.

Starlink is not the only LEO constellation to watch

Kymetra

 I mentioned earlier that SpaceX has agreed to launch the remaining satellites for the OneWeb LEO constellation and they will start beta trials this year. OneWeb only need 648 satellites for their constellation as opposed to the 42,000 planned for the Starlink constellation. OneWeb already has 60% of their constellation launched.

At the end of March OneWeb announced at the Satellite 2022 Show that they have added Kymeta, Speedcast and Eutelsat as distribution partners. This is an interesting collection of companies, all of which we work with.  Kymeta has developed the only commercially available, proven, electronically steered flat panel for maritime that has already been tested with OneWeb.  We will be beta testing the OneWeb service on one of our Kymeta client yachts as soon as possible. Eutelsat is a satellite operator and major investor in OneWeb.  Speedcast is a VSAT satellite service provider who have developed a Unified Global Platform (UGP) that can provide connectivity seamlessly from GEO, MEO, LEO and cellular.

speedcast-oneweb

Speedcast will be joining us at both the MYBA show and the Palma SuperYacht Village.  Want to hear more? Come and join us for lunch and be amazed by our resident magician!

MYBA Show on 25th to 28th April.

Palma SuperYacht Village booth SY23 and 28th April to 1st May.

We would be delighted to see you at either or both events.  Also come to our Workshop at the ACREW lounge at the Palma Village and join in our Quiz on Data Connectivity to win an Apple Watch!

 

Roger Horner

For further info on e3 VSAT and SUPER DATA

e3 systems

+34 971 404 208

info@e3s.com

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