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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Mini satellites will enable unmanned ships

Wed 06 Dec 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

Mini satellites will enable unmanned ships

Editor Martyn Wingrove describes how the launch of LEO satellites will enable truly-connected and unmanned ships

Mini satellites in low Earth orbit will bring a new dimension to vessel communications and monitoring. While a high proportion of communications between ships and shore currently goes through geostationary satellites, more will be going through LEO satellites that fly around closer to our planet in the next decade.

Iridiumís investment in its next generation of LEO satellites will increase the capacity in L-band communications, eventually eroding some of the voice and data services that go through geostationary satellites now.

Adoption of VSAT in maritime is driving more of these services through geostationary C, or K-band pipes, and a few medium Earth orbit satellites. But, this could also be eroded by the emergence of LEO K-band satellites after 2020.

This was alluded to by Castor Marine chief executive Ivo Veldkamp when we spoke at the Europort exhibition in November. He expects the launch of constellations of LEO mini satellites will deliver lower latency communications on Ka-band and Ku-band.

Of these, OneWeb Ku-band is the most advanced with plans to launch the first 10 mini satellites in 2018, mostly for testing purposes. Intelsat is involved in this project and integrating OneWeb into its existing geostationary Ku-band offering to vessels.

Speaking last week with me over a pint, Intelsat director of mobility solutions Andrew Faiola said that nearly 900 of these mini satellites could be flying across the sky in the future providing pole-to-pole maritime broadband.

Telesat is also intending to launch a constellation of mini satellites for Ka-band that will also include polar orbits.

These services will drive prices down and open up more broadband capacity for future services. They will enable remote monitoring and control of vessels totally globally and deliver the capacity for smart ship and fleet operations.

These satellites could bring about the dawn of the truly-connected and unmanned ship.

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