SIG workshop at Airbus: Q&A with Andrew Bond, ETL Systems

1.    Tell us a bit more about your company.

ETL Systems designs and manufactures a wide range of satellite communications and RF equipment. This includes switch matrices and routers as well as an assortment of other RF components. Across our entire range, our main focus is on building high quality products to ensure a reliable service for broadcasters & teleports. As well as having a range of products, we design bespoke, customised solutions for new satcoms links.

In January 2019 ETL acquired Atlantic Microwave LTD. Their RF products are well aligned with our own, while addressing the test & simulation market. New products added to the ETL range include Test Loop Translators, Noise & Signal Generators, Satellite Simulators plus a range of higher frequency microwave and RF components. 

2.    What’s your role within the company?

I am the Sales & Marketing Director for ETL Systems and I joined the organisation in 2005. My role is to ensure our team works with the broadcasters, teleports, system integrators and satellite operators globally.

3.    What will you be discussing at the SIG workshop? 

I’ll be speaking about Trends & Technologies in RF distribution, specifically covering RF equipment needed for both HTS & LEO applications. 

4.    What do you feel are the benefits of attending the SIG workshops?

I find that SIG workshops are valuable in that they give members a chance to discuss the challenges of satellite interference which of course helps us to understand how the industry is evolving. We also get an opportunity to discuss new challenges facing the satellite industry. Many of these have an impact on our products and this influences what we design and manufacture. It’s great to be part of a wider group of members who all have the same aim of minimising signal interference within the industry.

5.    What do you think are the most interesting innovations in the industry right now?

An interesting trend is the on-going rise of High Throughput Satellite which is enabling connectivity in otherwise unconnected regions. Ensuring constant connectivity does bring its own challenges including rain fade and the need for redundant sites. The planned launches of LEO mega constellations are an important change happening within Satcoms industry. These will open up a wealth of opportunity to deliver more data services via satellite than ever before, however they will come with a number of challenges to ensure reliability and minimize interference. 

6.    Do you have any interesting things planned for the coming months? 

We have a number of product launches planned for 2019. ETL’s three new models in the Enigma Switch Matrix series is the first launch of the year. The Enigma series provides signal distribution for up to 32 input and output feeds for downlinking and uplinking signal management and can be used across a number of applications including satellite communications, broadcasting, military and government communication systems.

ETL also has a few events coming up in 2019, with several of them in the US including the NAB Show in Las Vegas from 8-11thApril – you can visit us in the South Upper Hall (stand 11208). In May, 6-8th, you can see us at Satellite show in Washington DC, stand 1533 and our subsidiary company Atlantic Microwave will also be attending at stand 2327. Our final US show of the year is IMS in Boston, from 4-6thJune at stand 315.

Another event I will be attending is ConnecTechAsia in Singapore on 18thJune – ETL will be at stand 1V3-03. Our final show of the summer is 3CDSE 2019 in Malvern on 16thJuly 2019.

We keep our websiteup to date with our calendar. Keep an eye out as we’ll also be heading to IBC in Amsterdam in the Autumn.


BSN-UK 2019 – Goonhilly Earth Station – Still Vibrant After All These Years

The BSN’s networking agenda got off to a flying start for 2019 with an event sponsored by Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd. Anver Anderson, GES Director of Sales, explained to the assembled members that even though Goonhilly Earth Station was one of the world’s first teleports (transmitting the first transatlantic TV signals back in the early 1960s), it’s still at the cutting edge of space-based telecommunications.

GES is involved in a range of projects for near space, LEO, MEO and GEO satellite communications as well as Deep Space, forthcoming Moon and Mars missions as well as radio astronomy. All this at a time when a renewed interest in space exploration and cube-sats is attracting so much investment from both government and industry.

In addition to the standard teleport services of uplink transmission and downlink feeds, TT&C, ranging and monitoring services, Goonhilly Earth Station is also introducing a brand new Data Centre facility with extensive connectivity to local and international fibre loops. In fact the SEA-ME-WE-3 international cable network has a node inside GES, connecting through the Middle East to South East Asia and Australia as well.

Significantly, the team at Goonhilly has doubled in size during the last year and with so many projects developing in the coming years, the team is set to grow further. Goonhilly is already a partner with the UK’s new rocket launch centres at Newquay – and more recently Shetland – to provide support to the UK’s ambitions of being a centre of excellence for launch services.

Goonhilly is led by CEO Ian Jones, who along with his Board of Directors, has dared to dream of how Goonhilly can take its place alongside the next generation of space communications and explorers. Having saved the site from becoming a wind farm back in 2004, Ian and his team have established training courses and projects that have kept some 400 school pupils, 150 university students and 4 PhD students enthused about their own future – as well as that of the space industry.

The not-to-be-missed Events of 2019

In our last blog, we talked about the transition to the Satcoms Innovation Group (SIG), as part of a wider expansion to encompass all types of innovation within the satellite industry. As such, we have an exciting mix of events coming up for 2019, with the opportunity for members to get involved.

With the aim of building on current innovations in satellite technology in order to improve efficiencies in all operational areas of satellite, our events are open to anyone within the industry.

Here are the events already in the diary for 2019 where SIG will have a presence:

Feb 14/15 – Global Space and Technology Convention, Singapore

The GSTC is organised and run by the Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA). We are currently in the process of working with the SSTA to put together a workshop for February 13th. Details to follow.

Mar 12/14 - CABSAT, Dubai

At CABSAT, we will once again be running a workshop on Monday 11th March. Our Executive Director will also be part of a panel asking whether the interference problem has been resolved. 

Mar 19/21 – Global Space Congress, Abu Dhabi

Stay tuned for details of our involvement at the Global Space Congress.

Mar 26/27 – SIG Workshop, Airbus, Portsmouth, UK

This will be our first major workshop of the year, hosted in the UK by Airbus. We already have a forward-thinking agenda including “how to design a LEO constellation”. Tours of the Airbus facility in Portsmouth will be included along with an evening event on 26th March. Registration will open early in the New Year so keep an eye on our events page for more details.

May 7 (½Day/pm) – Satellite Show, DC, USA

On the last day of the Satellite show, 7th May we will be holding a half day seminar and workshop. In addition, networking opportunities will be run throughout that show.

May 15/16 – Defence Satellites, Munich, Germany

For a third year our Executive Director, Martin Coleman will be chairing Defense Satellites in Munich in May. Attendees will include the likes of ESA, NATO and some of our members from SIG.

Jun 18/20 – ConnecTechAsia, Singapore

At ConnecTechAsia, as well as being asked to help shape the conference progam, we are hosting a SIG workshop on 18th June. The agenda is currently being developed and registration will be open in the New Year. We will also once again be hosting our innovation tours, which have proven extremely popular. If you are a member and exhibiting at ConnecTechAsia, please get in touch to book your place on the tour (there is no cost to participate).

Later in the year, we are planning to host a workshop in Munich, Germany. This will likely be in October, more details to follow.

Getting involved

The best way to get involved with SIG is undoubtedly to become a member organisation – we now have a single tier of membership for all new members to suit all. If your employer isn’t yet a member, you should still attend SIG events and workshops. These are free to attend if you are a member, but many of our events are also free to non-members. As part of media partnerships with external industry events and conferences, we can, in some instances, offer members discounted passes to attend these too.

If you have an interesting topic to discuss, why not ask us about speaking at our events? We do give priority to members, but always welcome non-members with a particularly interesting story or topic to discuss.

And finally, don’t forget to connect with us at tradeshows! Our Executive Director, Martin Coleman, attends most of the industry events around the world, and is always available for a chat to discuss, strategies, industry topics, issues, developments or membership. Stay up to date and find out what events we will attend by signing up the SIG newsletter here.

It just remains to wish all our members, partners, friends and followers Happy Holidays!

FAQ: The Satcoms Innovation Group

You may have seen that we recently announced a big change to our group’s focus. The Satellite Interference Reduction Group (IRG) has become the Satcoms Innovation Group (SIG), as part of a wider expansion to encompass all types of innovation within the satellite industry. In this blog post, we’ll answer some common questions about the expansion and what this means for the group.

1.   Why did IRG decide to become SIG? 

Originally created in 1998, IRG has been at the forefront of interference mitigation for twenty years. We were the group that brought most of the industry together around the same table, sharing operational experiences in detecting and resolving radio frequency interferences. Since the first meeting in Paris in 1998, the then SUIRG supported a mutual co-operation between satellite operators, end users and the industry, greatly improving process and procedures and raising awareness of the interferences issues. In the last few years, downtime caused by interference has reduced, more organisations are committed to preventing interference and new processes and tools have greatly minimised the time taken to resolve issues. The most recent achievement is  the introduction of Carrier ID, but we have been at the heart of many other global initiatives to lessen the effects of satellite interference.

Interference is still an ongoing issue, which is why it will remain a large part of what we do. As long as it is causing problems and requiring resources to fix, we will be working to eradicate it.

However, with LEO constellations, 5G, the digitization of the ground segment and demand for constant connectivity, there are big opportunities but also challenges coming our way. With more and more satellites launching, we may find it harder to keep space safe and clean. At the same time, competition from other communication methods are placing a strain on satellite operators to provide less expensive services. What this means is that we must optimize every aspect of the satellite world, keep errors to a minimum, and provide reliable, quality services.

So in October 2018 IRG became SIG, with the aim of building on current innovations in satellite technology in order to improve efficiencies in all operational areas of satellite.

2.   What is the aim of the group? 

The aim of the expansion is to promote innovation in the satellite communication industry to improve operational efficiency, saving time and ultimately money. We hope this will enable the industry to cope with the challenges of the future, and make the most of new opportunities.

The group will aim to facilitate the provision of highly reliable and quality satellite services, through innovation, whilst keeping interference to a minimum. We will bring engineers together to share information and discuss what is causing the problems they face on their daily duties and where we can improve, as well as share ideas and build a wish list for the industry to innovate and progress. As part of this, we hope to support manufacturers as they build tools and innovations to improve efficiencies and limit errors, taking insights from operators and users to help us inform the inception of these tools.

3.   How do you expect to meet that aim? 

One of our biggest roles within the industry is as a facilitator of close relationships between organisations, including all stakeholders in the satellite industry, making sure visionaries and innovators are given the necessary support and visibility. The most effective way of doing so is through events, which we hold regularly.

This year, we held workshops on three continents, bringing together regional players to share local information about satellite markets and challenges. We will also be speaking on industry panels at leading shows throughout 2019, and holding workshops alongside.

Since the inception of the group in 1998, we have been instrumental in lobbying regulatory bodies, small businesses with big ideas and other organisations and will continue to do so going ahead. We aim to, where necessary, push for legislation that respects the importance of the satellite industry and protects it from harm.

The Satellite Innovation Group’s main aim is to promote all types of innovation, in order for the satellite industry to continue to stay ahead of the curve. We hope that by innovating new technologies and tools, we can improve efficiency in all sectors of the satellite industry and allow all organisations to benefit both monetarily and operationally.

4.   What’s next for SIG? 

As part of the widening of our remit, there are a number of new topics which will be covering at our next few events and in the foreseeable future. A prominent topic is the potential for Big Data and Machine Learning (or Artificial Intelligence depending on your viewpoint) to help in our quest to manage future challenge, such as vast LEO constellations and future super networks. The group believes this is an area where we will see substantial development in the next few years, driven by the efforts of our members and supported by SIG.

We’ll be heading to Cabsat in January which will excitingly be our first tradeshow as SIG! It will be a great opportunity to discuss the change with any members and the wider industry that didn’t attend our event, Satellite Technology Asia.

Our next workshop will most likely be in March here in the UK then the next alongside the Satellite Show 2019 in May, so stay tuned!

5.   How can I get involved?

The best way to get involved with SIG is undoubtedly to become a member organisation – we have two tiers of membership with varying cost to suit all. If your employer isn’t yet a member, you should still attend SIG events and workshops. These are free to attend if you are a member, but some of our events are also free to non-members. As part of media partnerships with external industry events and conferences, we can, in some instances, offer members discounted passes to attend these too.

If you have an interesting topic to discuss, why not ask us about speaking at our events? We do give priority to members, but always welcome non-members with a particularly interesting story or topic to discuss.

And finally, don’t forget to connect with us at tradeshows! Our Executive Director, Martin Coleman, attends most of the industry events around the world, and is always available for a chat to discuss innovation, membership or anything related to the satellite industry. Stay up to date and find out what events we will attend by signing up the SIG newsletter here.

Progress for Integrasys

2018 has been a year of important development and progress for our member Integrasys. From moving its offices earlier in the year, to winning awards for its ALUSAT, this year has been full of achievements for the company.

In June of this year, Integrasys announced that it tripled its profit in 2017 compared to 2016. This positive increase can easily be attributed to its customer relationships and partnerships. It has been working in the industry since 1990, and this rise in profit is simply proof of how it is driving the industry forward. Integrasys has experienced a revenue growth of 35% each year over the last 3 years. This shows great signs of development for not only Integrasys but also the industry as a whole. Investment in innovation is a driving force for the future. As well as this, expansion meant that Integrasys was able to both grow its team, and move to bigger offices to accommodate its growth. The new headquarters office is located in Madrid and its staff has increased by 180% from last year.

Not only did Integrasys triple its profits, but it has also been busy winning awards for its innovative solutions. This recognition for the company is great, with Alusat and Satmotion Pocket both receiving awards.

Alusat, a unique Automated Network Maintenance System that helps to minimise failures, has won the ‘Best Ground Segment Technology’ in the VSAT Stellar Awards and ‘Teleport Technology of the Year’ in the World Teleport Association’s 2018 Teleport Awards for Excellence!

Meanwhile, Satmotion Pocket, which minimizes deployment time and effort has been granted ‘Innovative Product of the Year’ in the Vision Awards. I am sure you will all join me in congratulating Integrasys for these awards. These products have the ability to help provide innovative development in the industry, and seeing them get deserved recognition is a positive sign that the we are moving in the right direction.

In addition to Satmotion Pocket’s abilities, Integrasys has worked with Acorde, a designer and manufacturer of RF front-ends for satellite communications systems to integrate the product into Acorde’s Block-Up Converters (BUCs) for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). This integration is a great development for the industry as it means that UAVs are able to operate more efficiently by automatically connecting to the right satellite. This reduces the potential for interference, and it is really great to see Integrasys and Acorde working in the industry to help prevent this.

It is great to see our members flourish, and we look forward to continuing to provide positive growth and developments for the companies that we work with.

Why Satellite Technology Asia?

October will see the launch of a brand new event, Satellite Technology Asia, but actually we think it will be familiar for many. Satellite Technology Asia is a joint collaboration between Intelligence-Sec and the Satellite Interference Reduction Group (IRG). Intelligence-Sec already successfully runs a range of events around the world with a great deal of interest and participation. At IRG, we also run a number of events mainly for our members, but we always welcome others to discuss the tricky, but important subject of interference.

Satellite Technology Asia will be a unique amalgamation of both of those. For our members and those used to attending IRG events, there will be the same mix of discussion and practical advice you are used to, but with the added bonus of some interesting content delivered by the team at Intelligence-Sec. That includes hearing from Jonathan Hung, Chairman of the Singapore Space Technology Association, Rear Admiral Zaka Ur Rehman, Director General of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, Ngo Duy Tan of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST), and Thomas van der Heyden, Senior Programme Advisor at the Ministry of Defence, Indonesia, amongst others.

What this event allows us to do is, as well as dealing with the all-important challenge of interference, discuss innovation and developments in other areas of the satellite industry. Although the event is in Asia and will predominantly feature presentations relevant to the region, we also encourage the same global presence and reputation our events tend to attract. After all, it makes sense for regions to learn from each other when it comes to improving processes and solving challenges. 

The other thing that makes this event unique is that it will bring together the commercial and government / military players. Most events focus exclusively on one or the other, but this will encompass both in one event. 

If you would like to attend, sponsor, or sign-up as a media partner, check out our event page and get in touch.

Kratos’ Constellations Podcast Provides a Forum for Knowledge Sharing and Discussion

By Martin Coleman, Executive Director, the Satellite Interference Reduction Group

Earlier this month our member Kratos celebrated the 25th episode of its well-respected Constellations podcast. In the podcast series, space industry leaders are brought together to share their thoughts on a number of issues including business, policy and opportunities. The premise is to provide a forum for satellite and space professionals to learn from experts as they share knowledge and insights into the future.

The 25th edition of the podcast focused on the impact of HTS on capacity pricing, the need for changes to the business model of satellite operators and the aerospace mobility market. The guest for the podcast was Susan Bull, Sr. Consultant with COMSYS, the world’s foremost VSAT consultancy. You can listen to the podcast here.

I myself had the pleasure of participating in an episode of the Constellations podcast, live from Satellite 2018 earlier this year. I joined Mark Steel, VP of Product Development & Strategy for Inmarsat, and Bob Potter, VP of Signals & Ground System Technology for Kratos, to discuss smallsats, interference, AI and EPFD limits.

On the subject of LEO and nanosats, I began the conversation by pointing out that the main problem is that we really don’t know what effect they could have in the future. Although I am excited to see what LEO and smallsats will enable on the business side of things, we still need to be careful when it comes to the effect on congestion and interference. Instead, what we need to focus on is what we can do now so we are prepared for the future, which may mean dealing with a more congested space.

Mark Steel discussed these constellations further, saying he is less optimistic given that Inmarsat’s research has shown there are a number of problems with manufactured equipment causing a multitude of issues. He said “the stats are pretty frightening”. He also said we still have a long way to go when it comes to the industry driving the challenges to help us bring about a reduction in interference.

Bob Potter started off by saying the more he looks into LEO and smallsats the more optimistic he becomes, but he added that “any RF engineer will tell you that with more people using the spectrum, the more likely you are to get interference.” He counters this however by saying that this has been thought-through and the proof in the pudding will be when LEO constellations and smallsats are deployed.

As I said in the podcast, interference is not a one-company problem, it crosses all boundaries and we therefore need to work together to solve issues. The good news is, after 20 years of IRG (2018 marks twenty years since the inception of the group!), not only have we added tools to solve interference problems, we have facilitated more discussion and made it a less ‘scary’ subject.

During the podcast the host, John Gilroy, asked “where does Artificial Intelligence play in your world?” Now this is a great question because my vision is that we need to create what I call a digital assistant. AI and Machine Learning is the future, it is in fact the future of our mitigation toolbox. Imagine having a machine which could absorb data, weather patterns etc., and alert us to issues ahead of their occurrence, or put preventive measures in place without human interaction. I envisage a future where our tools have AI and ML within them, aiding our understanding of situations and helping us deal with issues quicker, before they become larger problems.

A big thank you to Kratos for inviting IRG onto a podcast session and congratulations on the 25th edition! You can visit Kratos at IBC Show between 14th-18th September at booth 1.A01.

Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think about LEO, smallsats, AI and the future of interference. IRG wants to know how our members and the wider industry are dealing with these issues, so leave a comment below or get in touch.

GovSat Working Against Interference

GovSat is a public-private joint venture between the Luxembourg Government and SES, the world leading satellite operator. GovSat-1 was launched in January 2018 and has been operational since March 2018. The unique satellite features the latest technology advancements in communications security, and is entirely dedicated to governments and institutions, including Defence and Security applications.

The GovSat team has extensive experience and insights into the unique connectivity requirements necessary to support classified government missions that we have factored into the development of the satellite. In a time when cyber threats are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, resiliency and robustness of the communications capabilities are absolutely paramount. GovSat-1 was devised with this in mind and therefore has additional levels of security compared to traditional satellites. The satellite is equipped with anti-jamming features, encrypted telemetry and control. It also uses secure frequencies to ensure reliable and robust services.

In general, interferences are problematic and can be very detrimental to customers,  users and as well within the industry as a whole. GovSat believes that the work that IRG is doing is clearly imperative in the fight to reduce interference, because working collaboratively as an industry is crucial in these efforts. The way that GovSat mitigates interference is through the work it performs with its neighbours, based on fair and firm satellite coordination agreements, along with the consistent policing of the spectrum. Antenna registration is also part of the ‘backbone’ of interference mitigation. Furthermore, it works alongside its system vendors to optimise the usage of tools available.

Russ Hogan, Director Service Operations, GovSat commented: “Being a member of IRG is really important to GovSat because it enables us to work more closely with our industry peers. IRG events, like the Brighton workshop I attended last Autumn, act as forums for discussion and help us, as an industry, explore ways we can tackle interference collaboratively.

Interestingly enough, some of the most notable innovations in the industry right now are the ones that are advancing the mitigation of interference, which is great for the user community and industry. I can easily say TDMA VSAT geolocation coupled with Signal Excision technology has been a great development recently. Another positive trend that we are noticing in the industry is the changing attitude of the system vendors, who ‘join up’ tools in order to offer seamless interference detection, characterisation and location technologies.

We have been working very closely with start-ups and local universities to come up with innovative ways to enable smart issue management reporting and interference mitigation techniques. We’re looking forward to sharing the results of this which we are sure will be exciting.”

GovSat will be presenting at the Global SOF Symposium in Madrid between 25th-27thSeptember and at Global Milsatcomsin London between November 6th-8th.

Another great networking event with the BSN, courtesy of Telesat – From HTS to LEO


The mid-year gathering of the Broadcasting & Satellite Networking group (BSN), focusing on the topic ‘From HTS to LEO’, was generously hosted by Telesat in a very hospitable Westminster location.

With the recent successful launch of Telesat’s Telstar 19 VANTAGE satellite, providing new HTS Ku and Ka- band capacity across the Americas and Atlantic, BSN members heard from Telesat’s Gordon Grant, Manager International Sales Engineering, regarding the company’s future strategies and new constellations.

Describing the capabilities of Telesat’s new geostationary T19V satellite at 63°W, Mr. Grant highlighted its Ka-band HTS spot beam capacity that covers South America, the Caribbean, North Atlantic and Northern Canada. The satellite’s Ku-band coverages include HTS spot beams over Brazil and the Andean region, along with regional beams over Brazil and the North Atlantic.

For the future, Telesat is now developing an advanced LEO constellation with capacity and performance that could transform global communications. Mr. Grant explained that the system’s design will enable Telesat to offer customers, both in commercial and government markets, with an unsurpassed combination of capacity, speed, security, resiliency and low cost with latency that is as good or better than the most advanced terrestrial networks. Telesat LEO has the potential to become a core component in satisfying many of the world’s most challenging communications requirements such as: accelerating 5G expansion; ending the digital divide with fiber-like high speed services into rural and remote communities; and setting new levels of broadband performance on land, sea and in the air.

Telesat is uniquely positioned to deliver the world’s most advanced and capable LEO constellation given the company’s deep technical expertise, strong track record of innovation, senior spectrum rights, and industry-leading customer service and support. Mobility will be a key market, particularly commercial aviation that is forecasted to see broadband access revenues grow from about $800 million today to over $9 billion by 2028. In the maritime sector, demand is expected to increase a hundredfold, with cruise ship offerings increasing from 10Mbps to 1Gbps to meet customer demand.

Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite was launched January 2018 into a sun synchronous orbit of 1000km with customer testing scheduled later this year. Telesat is now working with leading satellite manufacturers to finalize the design of its constellation that will initially consist of approximately 120 state-of-the-art satellites providing full global coverage. Under the MEF 3.0 umbrella, the network will provide a ‘plug-and-play’ approach for equipment and service delivering ease of access for Telesat’s present and future customers.

The evening was a resounding success, with nearly half of the BSN membership attending.


By Bob Gough, Head of Business Development Australia & Asia-Pacific, Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd.

I’m pleased to have been invited to sit on the panel “Debris – What Debris?” on Day 3 of the APSCC 2018 Satellite Conference & Exhibition (APSCC 2018), organised by Asia-Pacific Satellite Communications Council (APSCC), in Jakarta, Indonesia, 2 – 4 October 2018.

Goonhilly Earth Station

It’s of particular interest to me as I’m leading the expansion of Goonhilly Earth Station (GES) in Australia and Asia Pacific and expanding our Deep Space Network and other developments in the region.

Satellite IRG

The Panel moderator is Martin Coleman, Executive Director of the Satellite Interference Reduction Group (sIRG) which has been so proactive and successful over many years to encourage the industry to take positive actions to reduce interference.

But it’s more than just interference that threatens everything we depend upon from space. What we really mean is “Looking after Space!”

Almost everyone in the World is dependent upon satellite services either directly or indirectly for the channels they watch be they domestic or international and for our part satellite interference is still a hot topic for the satellite industry over many years. Space has transformed our lives and enabled globalisation. Corporations, national governments, international agencies and individual citizens now consistently rely on spacecraft-supported communication, navigation and timing, imagery, and remote sensing information capabilities to conduct daily business. Space transportation initiatives have now taken hold. Space is no longer the domain of an extended superpower struggle – it has evolved and become a place of utility for all mankind.

The current orbital environment
Our increased dependency on space capabilities demands an understanding of the associated vulnerabilities in what has become an increasingly congested Earth-orbiting space environment. From just one spacecraft in orbit in 1957, thousands of spacecraft, their associated transportation systems (spent rocket stages) and other related debris have entered the space domain.

Click to see Real NASA Debris Video

Orbital Debris – click to see the NASA Video

While many of these objects have either transited out of Earth orbit or re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated, nearly 23,000 trackable objects currently remain in orbit. This includes Vanguard 1, the oldest orbiting Earth object, along with 1,150 active spacecraft and thousands of retired spacecraft or other orbiting debris, ranging in size from fragments to 25 metre long rocket stages at altitudes from 100 km to over 120,000 km from the Earth’s surface. Given the significantly reduced atmospheric drag in higher Earth orbits many objects will stay in space for decades, and in geosynchronous orbits (GEOs) objects could remain in space for hundreds of years or more.

Here are links to Analytical Graphics (AGISpaceBook, a real-time satellite viewer, and an Animation based upon real data. These two show visually what the space environment looks like.

The main example for this panel to follow is that of the Joint Space Operations Centre (JSpOC) based in the US, which actively tracks all objects of ‘softball size’ (10 cm) or larger in orbit, using a combination of ground radar and optical systems and some space-based sensors.

Of the 23,000 trackable objects 7,500 are considered very small and are followed only by an extremely limited number of sensors. Degradations among those sensors can have a significant impact on our ability to track and, more importantly, to provide safety of flight for both critical manned and unmanned space vehicles. Remember, the object the size of a marble (1 cm) has the potential to destroy a spacecraft.

Presently such small objects are not tracked, and only rarely are objects between 1 cm and 10 cm consistently tracked. Estimates of the number of such objects in low-Earth orbit (LEO) range between 300,000 and 560,000. It is expected that as sensors and computing systems improve more small debris will be discovered and thousands more of these objects could be tracked.

Before 2007, the number of trackable objects orbiting Earth increased at a predictable rate. But since then, three incidents have completely changed the situation. In 2007 the Chinese carried out an anti-satellite test against their own spacecraft known as Fengyun 1C. Two years later, there was a collision between two spacecraft known as Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251. And in 2012 the upper stage of a Russian BRIZ-M rocket exploded.

Iridium 33

Kosmos 2251

Together, these events were a watershed. Between them they nearly doubled the number of catalogued objects in orbit, drastically increasing the amount of close approaches between orbiting objects, or ‘conjunctions’, that are detected. Additional debris from those three events are found and tracked nearly every day. JSpOC is set up to notify spacecraft owner/operators around the globe on a continuous basis, giving out information on which they can base collision avoidance manoeuvre decisions.

Space Data Association

Which is why the Space Data Association (SDA) was set up in the first place to complement this vital work done by JSpOC and recognise the problem for the commercial industry. Other organisations such as CSIROJAXAKoreaESA, DLR (German Aerospace), and AGI to name but a few are also heavily involved with similar work and cooperation, bringing vital new developments and technology to remedy the debris problem.
In the Asia Pacific region another key organisation is the Australian Space Environment Research Centre (SERC). The SERC is a collaboration between government agencies, universities and space industry professionals from Australia, USA and Japan. Other key organisations that are active in this field and in this region include the Space Industry Association of Australia(SIAA), the South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC) and the new Australian Space Agency.

In general, conjunction warnings are issued that are under 5 km miss distance at GEO or less than 1 km miss distance in LEO and done within 72 hours of the time of closest approach. Currently, the estimated day-to-day statistical chance of a collision is 1×10-6 (one in a million); and 70 per cent of detected conjunctions can be traced back to one of the above three events!

To meet space safety challenges, thousands of observations every 24 hours are collected to generate a current average of 30 daily collision warning notifications that are provided to global spacecraft owners and operators. This gives them position and trajectory information so they can, where possible, take avoidance measures.

The proliferation of smaller spacecraft

Other considerations, that given the inevitable increase in LEO constellations and given that these objects travel at speeds of up to 17,500 mph (more than 10 times the speed of a bullet) collisions of even the smallest objects with any spacecraft could be catastrophic and propagate further debris.

A Typical Cubesat Mission

In addition, there is a growing appetite today for small, inexpensive space payloads. The number of these systems and their size presents opportunities to academics, students, innovators, entrepreneurs and others hoping to access space on a low-cost basis. However, this also creates a related challenge and increased risk to space operations. If not deployed into orbit in a responsible manner, these objects can be exceedingly difficult to identify in a timely manner and could threaten other objects in orbit. The proliferation of CubeSats (usually 10 cm cubes) and associated technology has exacerbated traditional tracking challenges.

In addition, the emerging space transportation industry will also need to consider carefully the spaceflight safety risks from debris.

Increasing partnerships and meeting challenges head-on
The Panel will focus on the following key subject areas…

SSA Collaboration is key
• The significance and enormity of the task area and that no one nation can achieve SSA
without working with others
• The different approaches to SSA (Military, Civil & Commercial)
• Cooperate to ensure SSA develops and with all space programs
• The need for appropriate and proportionate regulation supported by the correct level of technology

Current SSA Trends and Challenges
• Overview of the research conducted by Organisations on space debris
• State of the art Optical communications
• The beginnings of space tourism communications
• Where does the problem lie?
• Next steps

Industry Cooperation for SSA
• Current mitigation Processes and Technologies
• Risk of Collision and damage to the space environment
• Importance of transparent data
• Need for international and industry wide cooperation
• SSA – Are our Models up-to-date?

So it looks like being an interesting Panel discussion with Conference attendees from around the globe, given that the APSCC is one of the major annual international satellite communications conferences in the Asia-Pacific region!