This capability will enable highly secure and resilient, controllable and faster communications on the ground with more reliability of accurate data for better decision-making capability
Jessica Regan, Space Programme Manager, Applied Intelligence
We are developing Software Defined Radios (SDRs) that could provide both GNSS and Command and control services, but from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites or even high-altitude aircraft. This technology offers many advantages: it is relatively inexpensive; allows multiple functionality; and critically the ability to upgrade or re-programme the system remotely, making a potential satellite application very cost-effective.
We have a strong heritage in SDRs, having already provided these for European Space Agency (ESA) ground stations used for satellite and deep space probes. These have allowed ESA to use a single ground station for different and varied space missions, and have both proven their effectiveness and reduced costs.
More recently, we have used our secure system expertise to create highly robust and secure SDRs, while maintaining their small physical footprint and highly flexible architecture. These devices are ideally suited to provide Precision Navigation and Timing (PNT) and beyond-line-of-sight communications. Using them would also greatly increase the resilience of both GNSS and communication systems.
The SDR payloads we are developing will not only be usable on LEO satellites, but they will also be small enough to be placed on high-altitude platforms such as our PHASA-35® Solar HALE aircraft. This would provide a greater flexibility of coverage and dwell time when needed in a specific location. A series of these PHASA-35 SDR payloads over a defined area could also provide a reliable and secure data network wherever it is needed.
The size of each payload will depend on its intended use, but it could be as small as a mobile phone, for example, if its capabilities are only needed to cover a small geographic area. The flexibility of SDRs means they can incorporate new cutting-edge technologies as they become available, making allowance for future capability.
We are collaborating on this project with Prismatic Ltd, who have extensive experience in Low Earth Orbit and high-altitude platforms, to fully understand the implications for testing, construction and launch.