Some of the most important and disruptive changes that the wave of Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations will bring to the satellite business will be on the ground, rather than in orbit, experts said at the LEO Digital Forum on Wednesday.
“To light up all the [FCC-approved Non-Geostationary Orbit] satellites … you will need a lot of gateways on the ground. The amount of gateway infrastructure will be enormous,” Frederik Simoens, CTO of ST Engineering iDirect, said during the LEO Technology Ecosystem panel.
ST Engineering makes gateways — sophisticated ground stations that communicate with satellites in orbit, connecting them to terrestrial networks. Unlike satellites in the much higher Geostationary Orbit (GEO), which remain fixed at a point in space, Low-Earth Orbit satellites move across the sky and each one requires multiple gateways or hubs on the ground, spread across the globe.
To cope with the exponential growth in LEO expected in the next few years, the entire ground segment needs to be virtualized, Simoens said. Making gateways part of a software-defined network will allow their capability to be applied dynamically, as needed. Capacity can be shifted around the globe with the cycling demand of the work day.
“We’ll only do limited baseband processing functionality close to the teleport. All the other network functions will move to a more central location, which gives the benefit that all that processing functionality can easily shift from one gateway to another, or from one satellite to another,” he said.
This will become more essential as the orbital landscape becomes flexible and dynamic, Simoens added, with beams being moved around or deployed on demand.