In today’s tech-based world, inequalities between developed and developing countries are becoming increasingly digital. It’s called the digital divide and, for many people, it defines not only who can access what information, but also when and where. To put the issue into perspective, although most of us take mobile communications for granted, an estimated 1.54 billion people worldwide lack access to basic voice and texting services, while 3.9 billion, or 53 % of the global population, lack access to 3G internet connections. Much of this gap can be attributed to a lack of infrastructure. Developing countries simply cannot afford the ICT infrastructure needed to provide rural and remote areas with affordable, reliable internet access. However, with the development of nanosatellite technology, this could be about to change. “Although satellites have always been used for telecommunication purposes, they are far too expensive to produce, launch and operate to be a viable solution for providing affordable internet to developing countries,” says Meir Moalem, CEO at Sky and Space Global UK Ltd (SAS). “Thanks to their low mass and high capabilities, nanosatellites have the potential to disrupt the telecommunications sector by providing an affordable alternative.” SAS aims to become the global leader in providing affordable communication services to millions of devices and people living in the developing world – a mission being supported by the EU-funded Pearls Constellation project.
Affordable communication for everyone
The SAS communication service will be provided through a future constellation of 200 nanosatellites and backed by the necessary ground infrastructure and software. Each satellite will be placed in a low Earth orbit, with a full orbit taking approximately 90 minutes. The individual satellites will communicate with each other using intersatellite link connectivity. This unique setup creates a mesh in space, with each satellite serving the dual function of base station and router. Each satellite sends information in a circular manner down to the ground device tuned to its network and covering the equatorial belt. “These nanosatellites, which we call Pearls, will enable a convenient platform for Internet of Things and machine-to-machine data and instant messaging services,” explains Moalem. “By reducing the price for our telecommunication customers, the Pearls Constellation will make communication affordable for everyone – everywhere.” SAS operates in the S-band frequency range, which enables the nanosatellites to operate using only a small patch or monopole antenna and very low power consumption.
World firsts in nanosatellites
SAS was able to conduct an in-depth feasibility study of its Pearls Constellation concept, with the EU funds supporting this effort. Specifically, the company evaluated the technical and regulatory requirements for bringing the service to market, developed the first iteration of the highly sophisticated software needed to manage nanosatellite communications, and performed ground tests with successful results. Although the project remains a work-in-progress, SAS has already achieved several world firsts for nanosatellites. This includes performing the first intersatellite data transfer, voice call, financial transaction and cybersecurity integration. But, according to Moalem, the company is just getting started. “From education to social cohesion, trade, employment, health and quality of life – Pearls Constellation will be a game changer for the developing world,” he says. “This social impact is the legacy we’re working towards.”
Pearls Constellation, nanosatellites, internet, developing world, telecommunications, digital divide, ICT, satellites, Internet of Things