Kepler Communication has successfully tested a high-bandwidth satellite connection in the high arctic, and while that’s good news for the startup, it still has a ways to go in delivering on its promise as an Internet of Things (IoT) telecommunications company.
The company can be very satisfied in its accomplishment, with one expert in arctic communications telling SpaceQ this is an important milestone, but not to get too excited yet.
So what did Kepler achieve in this test?
According to Kepler, the company “demonstrated delivering over 100Mbps connectivity service in the Arctic region to the German icebreaker Polarstern. The vessel is located around 85°N and is the home to the MOSAiC scientific expedition. The demonstration marks the first time in history that the central Arctic is successfully connected through a high-bandwidth satellite network.”
What does the achievement mean?
What Kepler demonstrated was that the German icebreaker Polarstern was able to communicate with the Kepler satellites as they passed overhead and sent a stream of data that the satellites stored. While this type of communication is not new, doing so over the high arctic, and a high-data rate is new.
It should be noted that Kepler only has two demonstration small satellites in orbit, KIPP and CASE, and for this test both satellites were used.
Afterwards, Kepler downloaded the data from Polarstern to one of its ground stations where the data was then made available to scientists in Germany. Kepler currently owns and operates ground stations in Inuvik, Awarua (New Zealand), and Svalbard (Norway).
So Kepler was able to “store-and-forward” the data, which is the promise of low Earth orbit (LEO) IoT satellite constellations.
But being able to store-and-forward from LEO at a high-data rate is only part of the equation. You still need to get the data to the customer, and sometimes, in a timely fashion.
This is where two other parts of the Kepler plan come into play.
Kepler plans on putting 140 satellites in LEO, including spares, to move the data to the customer. Marketing Manager Victoria Alberto told SpaceQ that because Kepler uses a “store-and-forward approach,” their customers can use a “dedicated teleport (ground station) at a customer’s site using a mechanically steerable VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal).”
For the demonstration with the Polarstern, Kepler said it “demonstrated data rates of 38 Mbps downlink and 120 Mbps uplink to a 2.4m Ku-band VSAT.”
As mentioned before, Kepler is using a store-and-forward approach. The customer uploads the data and the Kepler satellite stores it and dumps the data when in range of one of their ground stations, or in the future, at a customers dedicated teleport.
However, one of the things Kepler is not doing yet is moving the data between their satellites using inter-satellite links. This method would move the data from where it’s collected to the customer in a much faster fashion. According to Alberto, this is something on Kepler’s “roadmap” but won’t say when it will be implemented.
Mina Mitry, CEO at Kepler said of the demonstration, “our Global Data Service provides a cost-effective means to transfer large data volumes that will be gathered over the course of MOSAiC. Rather than only storing data locally and analyzing once physical storage can be sent back with supply vessels, we are giving scientists the ability to continuously transfer test and housekeeping data sets over our unique LEO satellite network.”
The demonstration proved that Kepler’s service can work even in a limited way. They can now move on with some degree of confidence to executing the next part of their business plan.