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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Forward Thinking: Mini satellites will drive remote ship monitoring

Mon 04 Dec 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

Forward Thinking: Mini satellites will drive remote ship monitoring
Ivo Veldkamp, Castor Marine

Castor Marine chief executive Ivo Veldkamp expects planned launches of geostationary and low earth orbit K-band satellites will drive down prices further in the market which will accelerate developments in smart shipping and remote monitoring

Ship operators can look ahead to a time when all types of vessel will be able to access VSAT for remote monitoring and smart shipping, according to Castor Marine chief executive Ivo Veldkamp. He is looking ahead to the planned launches of geostationary satellites and the launching of smaller satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) that will operate over Ka-band and Ku-band to lower costs for vessel operators.

He explained that Telesat was planning to launch mini-satellites that deliver Ka-band services in a LEO constellation that will include polar orbits. Intelsat-backed OneWeb is also considering building a constellation of LEO satellites, but in Ku-band. These will compete with existing constellations of satellites in geostationary orbits that provide today’s VSAT services in C, Ku and Ka-bands.

“I expect there will be new developments in K-band and this should bring prices down,” said Mr Veldkamp. Megabyte broadband costs are already falling because there is more satellite capacity and more options for shipowners. However, this is needed as vessels are transmitting and receiving greater volumes of data for business requirements and crew welfare.

Mr Veldkamp said the next step is providing the means for real-time ship supervision from shore. “All the companies we speak to want remote monitoring and smarter ships,” he told Marine Electronics & Communications. However, he added that “it is still expensive” for remote observations in real-time for most customers.

This has led to VSAT providers now developing services to manage IT systems on ships and giving “ship operators tools to manage fleet connectivity and the right applications” said Mr Veldkamp.

Another potential cost-saving tool for vessel operators could come from developments in commercial flat panel VSAT antennas, he added. Castor Marine is working with Kymeta Corp on the commercial development of flat panel antennas. The technology is ready for trials, but according to Mr Veldkamp “equipment costs need to come down significantly and efficiency needs to be improved” before they can be commercially viable for large scale deployment.

“Flat panel antennas need to be evolved in the future,” he said, adding that they would be ideal for “superyachts or small vessels that cannot have 60 cm [diameter] stabilised antennas”.

Castor supplies VSAT and Inmarsat FleetBroadband to Wagenborg Shipping, supporting the IT infrastructure to meet the needs of business and crew welfare applications on its vessels. Castor operates a global VSAT Ku-band network with coverage from Russian Satellite Communications Co, Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Gazprom Space Systems satellites. It also operates a teleport ground station with 14 antennas of 3.7 m to 16 m diameter at Burum, and a second one (for exclusive use by the broadcasting industry) at Hilversum, both in the Netherlands.

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