The satellite industry is one of the modern world's biggest and most important sectors. It has various applications ranging from GPS signalling and telecommunications to cutting-edge orbital telescopes for space research.
For decades, satellite technology has allowed governments, businesses, and individuals to communicate, particularly in areas with poor terrestrial connectivity. Despite their significant benefits, satellite communications have always been limited in reach and performance.
Software Defined Satellite is the latest development in the satellite industry. It is designed to replace traditional hardware components with software. The ability to reconfigure the satellite means that the mission can change over time and be modified to meet changing demands.
This article explains how the introduction of software-defined satellite technology impacts the satellite industry.
The main benefit of software-defined satellites is the ability to reuse a single satellite for multiple applications. This enables it to serve multiple users with varying needs.
The new technology entails transitioning from traditional investments in satellite ground-based infrastructure to a flexible and open virtualized network environment.
By shifting customization capabilities to software, generic satellites can be reconfigured when necessary. This is a significant cost-saving approach over maintaining a satellite in a static configuration for many years.
Flexibility is one of the main advantages of software defined satellite units. It gives operators the freedom to change their mission. This was previously one of the most challenging aspects of space exploration.
The mission for the next five to fifteen years was defined once a satellite was launched. Some of its functionality could be changed by developers, but the mission was well-defined. Having an SDS allows operators to change this feature, making these devices adaptable to new emerging missions.
The traditional satellite required anyone interested in deploying a satellite in space to go through a multi-step process. This includes designing the satellite based on the specific functionality, locating a launch or mission provider, building the necessary hardware, obtaining permits and licences, and so on.
However, the software defined approach enables the deployment of a software code to an existing satellite in a day, and operations can begin instantly.
Previous satellites relied heavily on specific hardware to perform their functions. This will be a thing of the past with the new SDS, which runs on software. This enables the development of platform-independent, portable applications that can be reused across multiple satellite platforms as long as the models in the family are sufficiently compatible.
The most difficult advantage of using a "software-defined" framework for satellite development will be to predict. The benefits of "software-defined satellites" extend well beyond the potential to reconfigure a satellite for multiple clients and missions.
Creating an entirely new domain for independent developers may result in the same explosion of new applications as the creation of modern smartphones or the World Wide Web. When all of the infrastructure for low-cost, low-friction software installation on space-based platforms is in place, breakthroughs will undoubtedly follow.
The space industry is one of the world's most capital-intensive sectors. The increasing availability of satellite data has lowered the barriers to entry for small businesses and solo business owners, even home users with the launch of OneWeb and Starlink.
The software-defined satellite uses a model in which multiple satellite missions can share access to a single satellite's resources and charge users on a pay-per-use basis. This could lead to many more people participating in the upstream space segment due to cost reductions.
These satellites enable real-time optimization and change of coverage, power, beams, and bandwidth and deliver capacity when customers need it. This is especially true for mobility, which has variable demands such as time of day, flight routes, hotspots, etc. It optimises payload utilisation because capacity is well-spent where there is no demand.
Operators can also respond to shifts in demand, such as customer demographics and business models. Additionally, operators can attend to fast-changing needs, including moving bandwidth and power around a region to support new traffic.
In most cases, they can be modified in a matter of minutes to respond to changes in customer or network demand. Emerging issues such as signal interference can be easily detected and fixed immediately.
According to NSR, the growing software defined satellite market represents an $86.9 billion cumulative revenue opportunity from its launch and manufacturing operations by 2030. Adopting innovations such as software-defined platforms enable operators to create new business cases and opportunities for growth.
Software defined satellite technology will be critical in the construction and operation of 5G and 6G networks. They provide distinct advantages in terms of resilience, coverage, security, and mobility. They will efficiently make 5G and 6G accessible everywhere to businesses and citizens worldwide.
Software defined satellites will be critical in extending 5G networks to air, sea, and other remote areas that small cell networks cannot reach. Satellites provide seamless coverage of 5G services from cities to aeroplanes, cruise ships, and other automobiles in remote locations for end users.
5G will usher in a new era of communications, connecting more homes and businesses, enabling more powerful applications, increasing throughput and efficiency, and opening up new market opportunities. The technology will bring about the fourth industrial revolution, with 5G and 6G-powered smart homes, smart cities, and smart agriculture transforming how we live and work.
Traditionally, the ground section and satellites were viewed as separate entities, with the satellite acting as a fixed, bent pipe. However, with software-defined payloads, they operate as a single synchronised system. Ground operation will also change by shifting from closed, human-operated hardware to open, versatile, automated software to match the functionalities and flexibility of the satellites.
Converting analogue broadcasting signals to digital packets, virtualizing hardware to software, and automating as many operations as possible are all part of this. The ground can operate much more flexibly thanks to digitised satellite signals and virtualized signal processing, allowing operators to maximise the value of software-defined payloads.
Both space agencies and the space industry are now recognizing the benefits of "software-defined satellite" technologies. The SDS has become a game changer because the latest software development is much more open and available to the global programming community. Satellite mission innovation and operations are becoming more accessible. This will allow more business concepts to be implemented and tested in a real space mission context.