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Optical Data Payload for Small Satellites – A complete satellite platform with integrated optical communications system for increased data transfer rates.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ODALISS (Optical Data Payload for Small Satellites – A complete satellite platform with integrated optical communications system for increased data transfer rates.)

Reporting period: 2018-02-01 to 2018-04-30

Current radiofrequency (RF) communication systems for satellites are very bulky and require high amounts of power. This can be compromising for small satellite platforms. The physics involved in the satellite industry standard radiofrequency (RF) communication links impose unyielding limits to the mass and volume associated with components. Such as the antennae’s necessary dimensions, power consumption and heat control systems required to enable traditional radiofrequency bands in transceivers intended for small satellite platforms like CubeSats. These size and power requirements significantly limit the amount of space and power for other components, as the cost of launching a satellite depends primarily on the mass of the payload and the orbital altitude. Achieving a low mass is critical. They range from a minimum of $5000/kg for a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and $30,000/kg to $60,000/kg for a Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO).
Limited Communications Bandwidth: A small satellite, in the range of 3 to 12 kg (usually operating in Ultra High Frequency [UHF] and S bands), only allows data rates up to 200 Kbits/s (S band case). To transmit a topographical map of the entire surface of Mars at a resolution of one foot/pixel back to the Earth, the best radio frequency system would take nine years to complete the transmission . To send or receive data takes a long amount of time due to the restrictions of these communication systems and as such costs a significant amount to complete the process.

Ultimately, paying customers of the ODALISS solution will save significant cost and an immensely improved space operation effectiveness. Due to the reduced weight of the communication system, not only from the optic communication systems in large satellites, but also over RF communication systems, it results it much cheaper launch costs. The potential savings in satellite launch costs are as high as $12,000/kg. Not only does this mean saving on every satellite launch, it also means more satellites can be launched gathering more data for the users and potential revenue also.
The increased bandwidth and data transmission rates of up to 10MBps, over the 200Kbps experienced with RF communication systems, will allow research organisations and companies to analyse all data captured, instead of having to discriminate over smaller data-sets with existing solutions. This could prove instrumental in advancing research capabilities for space as it means more results can be sent back and all data can be analysed. This will give our customers more value for money with their test conducted, thus making each customer have a stronger desire to buy and use the ODALISS system.
Between 1st February 2018 and 30th April 2018, we undertook a Phase 1 Feasibility Study under the SME Instrument to determine the technical and economic viability of our optical communication system solution, ODALISS, for nano and microsatellites. This study proved instrumental to investigating the market landscape, strengths, as well as meeting requirements, to ensure successful first revenues from the proprietary technology. The Feasibility Study showed that an updated business model and financial plan was needed to approach the market and achieve higher rates of market penetration. The main achievements reported in the study were:
• Upon further in-depth market analysis through investigations and meetings with key market players, we found that the problems and needs in this market aren’t being adequately met by the current nano and microsatellite communication systems, with no company looking to transfer over their optic communication system from large satellites to the smaller market. The reason for this is that they are still developing their technology and it would be a completely different product needed for the smaller satellites. Due to the need for a smaller size and lower power requirement, these developments can’t be made.
• We found that our business model would need to be modified for improved commercial success. To do this we looked at the revenue streams we would make form our customers. The most beneficial business model to approach the market would be to start making the majority of our profits from the sale of the ODALISS platform but to generate more revenues from the annual maintenance fee in a mature market >10 years. For this to work correctly we conducted an in-depth analysis on the pricing structure with potential customers, and by several iterations on our financial plans.
• As part of the new business model, we have decided to modify the pricing structure. We will charge €200K upfront for the ODALISS satellite platform and optical communication system, with further annual payments of €40K per ODALISS system for maintenance and monitoring of the system to ensure it is operating correctly and to its full capabilities. This razor-blade business model will ensure we don’t need to sell large numbers of ODALISS systems (suiting the market as there is not a significant demand in numbers and rather in quality) and instead benefit annually from each system operating. All customers have shown positive interest in our planned costs as they dramatically reduce the current costs incurred for high quality satellite platforms and communication systems.
• During our further market research we found the ideal target markets for initial commercialisation are France, Germany, and Spain. The reason for this is due to the European space industry being a strong component in these countries, as they currently lead the European market. Additional European regions in the space industry will be targeted following this, along with other countries such as the US, South-East Asia, and Russia. This global approach will help to secure all potential customers throughout the globe by first securing strong relationships in Europe and proving our technology. These markets are being targeted not only due to their positions in the space industry, but also due to our strong connections with key players and potential customers throughout these markets.
There is only one competitor currently offering optical laser communications for satellites on the market. However, they are focused on an entirely different segment of the market, being designed for much larger satellites. Their communications unit alone weighs 53kg ($1.6M - $3.28M launch cost), this is between 4-18 times the mass of a typical satellite ODALISS accommodates, the power requirements and launch costs are consequentially enormous compared to ODALISS. The competitor is currently working with the ESA to develop and improve this technology but aren’t looking to create the solution for smaller satellites. Direct competitors in the same satellite size segment as ODALISS are reliant on traditional Radio Frequency (RF) systems which all suffer from problems of high power and mass requirements, low bandwidth, and a highly regulated communications spectrum that is heavily polluted.

Novelty to the state of the art comparison includes:
1) Reduced size and power requirements for sending data: Reduced size and power – lead onto cheaper to launch, hugely beneficial. ODALISS is extremely energy efficient due to its optical communications.

2) High bandwidth available with optical communication technology: ODALISS will provide an optical data transmission system in the range of 1 to 10 MBps for the class of small satellites between 3-12kg that normally operate in UHF and S communication bands, allowing data rates up to 200 Kbits/s. This will allow data to be transferred 400 times faster.

3) Unregulated spectrum that offers wide range of frequencies and channels for communication: The use of point-to-point optical communications in ODALISS circumvents the need for regulated communications spectra. The temporal and spatial coherence typical of laser light beams allows for transmitting the signal in a narrow spectrum, which will greatly increase the number of communication channels available. This will facilitate a democratisation of space based communications access for smaller organisations.

4) Optical ground stations provide reliable communication network: In order to overcome the drawback of atmospheric turbulence interfering with the optical communication transmissions, we are establishing a series of OGS around the globe in strategic locations where the atmosphere is clear and more predictable. Combined with the advances in adaptive optics that have been developed for astronomical observations this will allow us to provide a reliably consistent communication link with all ODALISS satellites.