Astrocast commercial IoT network service
The startup company Astrocast SA, founded in 2014 and headquartered in Chavannes-près-Renens (near Lausanne on Lake Geneva), Switzerland, is developing a CubeSat IoT (Internet of Things) network for global service provision to its customers. Astrocast delivers a complete end-to-end, direct-to-orbit service that, state-of-the-art communication modules, and enterprise class services. In partnership with Airbus, CEA/LETI, the European Space Agency, and Thuraya, Astrocast has developed Astronode S, a cutting-edge terminal featuring a low profile L-band antenna, ultra-low power consumption, and a small form factor. Astrocast enables companies like Marine Instruments and Wildlife Computers to expand their IoT strategies. 1) 2)
The Astrocast Nanosatellite IoT Network brings together sustainability and state-of-the-art. Our 80 nanosatellite network spans the globe allowing for low latency transmission. In addition, our satellites are equipped with propulsion and deorbiting giving us greater control of the entire network and the ability to avoid unlikely collisions with space debris. With extra capacity and redundancy of critical components, each of our satellites has a controlled lifetime of up to 5 years. All of this combines to give our customers the highest performance, greatest coverage, and the highest reliability from anywhere in the world.
As a listed company since August 2021, Astrocast SA is the most advanced global nanosatellite IoT (Internet of Things) network to tackle challenges in industries such as Agriculture & Livestock, Oil, Gas & Mining, Maritime, Environmental, Connected Vehicles, and IoT devices. The Astrocast network enables companies to monitor, track, assess, and communicate with critical remote assets from anywhere in the world. In partnership with Airbus, CEA/LETI, the European Space Agency, and Thuraya, Astrocast developed Astronode S, a cutting-edge module featuring low profile L-band antenna, ultra-low power consumption, and a small form factor. Founded in 2014 by a renowned team of experts, Astrocast designs builds, and tests all its products in-house, from the satellites to the modules.
Astrocast is the most advanced global nanosatellite IoT network. Our 100 nanosatellite constellation will be complete by 2024, spanning the globe and allowing for low latency transmission. In addition, our satellites are equipped with propulsion and deorbiting giving us greater control of the entire network and the ability to avoid unlikely collisions with space debris. With extra capacity and redundancy of critical components, each of our satellites has a controlled lifetime of up to 5 years. All of this combines to give our customers the highest performance, greatest coverage, and the highest reliability from anywhere in the world. 3)
Figure 1: Illustration of an Astrocast 3U CubeSat (video credit: Astrocast)
- State-of-the-art nanosatellites, 5 kg class, Swiss made
- LEO, sun-synchronous and equatorial orbits
- Redundancy of critical satellite components
- Extra capacity in orbit, guaranteeing service reliability
- Propulsion and deorbiting capabilities to avoid debris in space
- Controlled lifetime of 3-5 years to keep the best performance in orbit and allow new features to be added to the network.
Chipset and Module
- Proprietary low-power L-band chipset
- Chip is integrated into the Astronode S module
- Ease of integration (solder-down)
- Fully optimized for direct-to-satellite IoT applications
- Can be used with different antennas, depending on applications.
- Optimized for LEO satellites network
- Bidirectional communication enabling acknowledgments, asset commands, deployment of security patches and software updates
- Unicast/multicast capabilities, one-to-one connection versus one-to-many.
- L-band is the radio spectrum from 1 to 2 GHz, it is the most efficient spectrum for satellite M2M (Machine-to-Machine)/IoT.
- L-band radios have superior performance characteristics for IoT such as smaller antenna, lower-cost RF components, better propagation (no rain fade, lower power requirements), and fewer interference risks than other bands
- Astrocast is the only NewSpace IoT LEO network with access to L-band spectrum.
- Long-term access to spectrum is guaranteed.
- Bidirectional communication
- Low latency with full constellation (<15 min)
- Over-the-air updates (OTAs)
- Multilevel AES 256-bit encryption
- Azure compliant API (pull mode) for easy integration
- Customer Web Portal with data access
- Near real-time usage reporting
- Pro-active support and monthly reporting
Launches of Astrocast CubeSats (in reverse order)
• Transporter-2 — Second Rideshare mission of SpaceX. On June 30, 2021, SpaceX launched its second dedicated smallsat rideshare mission into a sun-synchronous orbit of 550 km. On board this launch were 85 commercial and government spacecraft (including CubeSats, microsatellites, and orbital transfer vehicles) and 3 Starlink satellites. 4)
- The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 3:31 p.m. EDT (19:31 UTC), more than halfway into a nearly hourlong launch window because of weather.
- Astrocast S.A. had 5 more 3U CubeSats on this Transporter-2 mission; namely Astrocast-0201 to Astrocast-0205.
Figure 2: A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off June 30 on the Transporter-2 rideshare mission, with 88 satellites on board (image credit: SpaceX webcast)
- With 10 commercial satellites in space, our constellation's latency will decrease. Therefore our customers will be able to send more messages per day. And we are just starting. One more launch is foreseen by the end of the year, carrying 10 more satellites. With 20 satellites by Q4 2021, the Astrocast network becomes the most reliable in the market for customers looking at monitoring assets in the most remote areas in the world. 5)
• SpaceX first Rideshare mission called Transporter-1. On 24 January 2021 at 15:00 UTC (10 a.m. EST), SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (SLC-40) with 143 small satellites, a record number of spacecraft on a single mission, giving a boost to startup space companies and stressing the U.S. military's tracking network charged with sorting out the locations of all objects in orbit. - SpaceX sent this mission with its 10 Starlink satellites into a polar SSO (Sun-Synchronous Orbit) with permission of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Altitude of 560 km and inclination of 97.6º. 6)
- Astrocast S.A. had five 3U CubeSats on Sunday's Transporter-1 mission; namely, Astrocast-0101 to Astrocast-0105.
• April 1, 2019: Launch of the secondary payload Astrocast-02 (Hawaii) 3U CubeSat on a PSLV-c45 launcher of ISRO at 03:27 UTC) from SDSC (Satish Dhawan Space Center) SHAR on India's east cost and successfully injected EMISAT (primary payload) and 28 international customer satellites into their designated orbits. This flight marked the first mission of PSLV-QL, a new variant of PSLV with four strap-on motors. 7)
• December 3, 2018: Astrocast announced the successful launch of its first test satellite, Astrocast-01, a 3U CubeSat (named Kiwi), for the Astrocast, LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Internet of Things (IoT) CubeSat network from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) , CA, on Spaceflight Industry's (Seattle) SSO-A rideshare mission on a Falcon 9 Block 5 vehicle of SpaceX (on 18:34 UTC). Launch of 64 spacecraft from 34 different organizations on this rideshare mission. 8)
Development & mission status of the Astrocast constellation
• December 15, 2021: Isar Aerospace, the leading and most well-funded private European launch service provider focusing on small and medium satellite deployment, and Astrocast, the leading Swiss IoT-focused nanosatellite company, announced today that they have entered into a firm launch services agreement. By the beginning of 2024, Isar Aerospace will launch Astrocast's satellite on a rideshare mission to SSO from its launch site in Andøya, Norway. Moreover, the contract includes options for the launch of additional satellites. This launch services agreement further strengthens Isar Aerospace's commercial customer base and signifies the trust customers of the European space ecosystem place in the launch service provider. 9)
- The demand for IoT is exploding all over the world, but current satellite solutions do not properly address IoT needs as over 85% of the world's surface is not covered by traditional cellular networks. The potential for IoT in these areas is very significant with 30 million connections expected by 2025. Astrocast is enlarging its global nanosatellite constellation and providing low-power modules to ubiquitously connect efficiently and at ultra-low-cost, millions of IoT devices in remote, rural and maritime areas.
- "Technologies in space are key for all industries on earth. We are excited to support Astrocast in their development – especially because our companies share similar roots as their founders come from a technical university and want to disrupt the space industry landscape in Europe. We are happy to be able to strengthen our customer base further and thank Astrocast for the trust and confidence it has placed in our team." Stella Guillen, Chief Commercial Officer of Isar Aerospace.
- Astrocast tackles the challenges in industries such as Agriculture & Livestock, Oil, Gas & Mining, Maritime, Environmental, Connected Vehicles, and IoT devices. The network enables companies to monitor, track, and communicate with critical remote assets from anywhere in the world. The company has already a constellation of satellites up and running in space, ahead of all its direct competitors. Recently the company went public in August 2021 and is listed at the Euronext Growth in Oslo.
- "We are happy to sign this launch agreement with Isar Aerospace. As a European-based satellite operator, we are pleased to support European solutions for launch and are particularly happy that we get a chance to launch our satellite from Norway. Isar has presented us a great solution and we are looking forward to watch their progress as they move towards their maiden launch," says Kjell Karlsen, Chief Financial Officer of Astrocast.
• December 14, 2021: Astrocast and the Access to Water Foundation announced their collaboration today. Aiming to have both parties working together to connect 150 water points in 2022 in Senegal. The stations, developed with the support of Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd, will be mainly located around schools and health points.
- The United Nations classifies Senegal as a water-poor country with less than 1,000 m3 per capita, while countries like the USA have almost 10,000 m3. About 20% of its population does not have access to clean water. The installation of these water points in strategic areas of Senegal will provide the opportunity to almost 5% of the Senegalese population to get drinkable water.
- "Using Astrocast's IoT connectivity solution, the Access to Water Foundation can deploy its water treatment points anywhere and contributes to the effective fight against diseases related to dirty or polluted water, including in remote and rural areas not covered by local telecom network," says Renaud de Watteville, Director of the Access to Water Foundation.
- "We are excited about this collaboration and the opportunity it represents for us to contribute to improving people's lives by leveraging our technology," according to Gildas Seimbille, Customer Success Manager at Astrocast.
- The machines will be presented during the World Water Forum in Dakar in March 2022, and their installation is planned to start in April 2022.
Figure 3: The water machines come with a set of filters including ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis. The Astronode S integration will allow remote monitoring deriving in a significant maintenance cost reduction. The data will also help to evaluate the impact of the project day after day ( image credit: Access to Water Foundation)
• October 20, 2021: Astrocast announced today the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with iWire Group of Dubai (UAE), aiming to have both companies becoming technology partners. The two companies believe in building sustainable infrastructure for deploying mass IoT solutions and will cooperate in offering IoT end-to-end solutions using different connectivity technologies. As the first step of this partnership, Astrocast and iWire will collaborate in the development and production of devices equipped with both Sigfox terrestrial connectivity and Astrocast Satellite IoT (SatIoT) services to offer an ubiquitous IoT end-to-end solution to iWire's customers. 10)
- "We are thrilled to kick-off this partnership. Alongside iWire, Astrocast will demonstrate how SatIoT can supplement existing LPWAN networks and enable very neat IoT solutions for remote areas" said Fabien Jordan CEO at Astrocast. This partnership will cover applications development in numerous countries in Asia and the Middle East.
- "There is a unique opportunity to deliver immense value in the communities we serve using innovative technologies and sustainable solutions and we are excited to partner with Astrocast to enhance our offer"said Ahmed Fasih Akhtar, Founder, CEO of iWire Group.
- Astrocast is excited to attend GITEX Technology Week 2021 (17-21 October 2021), as part of the iWire Global Pavilion at the Dubai World Trade Center. Both partners will demonstrate the benefits of the complementarity between space and terrestrial IoT:
a) Satellite's ubiquity guarantees continuous asset tracking in remote areas
b) Low-latency communications from assets all the way back to headquarters
c) Ultra-low power terminals with dual communication systems
d) Satellite L-band spectrum enabling small and low-profile patch antennas
e) Two-way communications.
About iWire: iWire is an IoT solution provider offering innovative solutions to connect devices to the Internet, operating in the UAE since 2017, and is now expanding its network in India, KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), Turkey, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Tunisia. As an IoT Service Provider, it offers IoT solutions to enterprises, governments, smart cities, utilities, and tech companies. iWire provides a unique proposition to its customers by providing "DAAS" (Device as a Service), which reduces the CAPEX costs for its customers.
Figure 4: Ahmed Fasih Akhtar, Founder and CEO of iWire Group, and Fabien Jordan, Founder and CEO of Astrocast, after signing the MoU at GITEX (Gulf Information Technology Exhibition) Global 2021 in Dubai (image credit: Astrocast, iWire)
• August 31, 2021: We are thrilled to announce today that Wayra Germany brings Astrocast and Telefónica together for an IoT product collaboration in its new 5G Tech Lab. Wayra Germany is the open innovation hub of the telecommunications group Telefónica. Their goal is to identify start-ups that can work with Telefónica's business units, starting with a pilot project. 11)
- Astrocast's module and antenna integrate with Telefónica trackers
- Thanks to the Astronode S module and the Astrocast nanosatellite network, this new product will enable direct-to-satellite, bidirectional communications between trackers in the world's most remote regions and headquarters. Telefónica customers will be able to collect data from and send updates and commands to trackers no matter where they are. The final proof-of-concept is showcased in the 5G Tech Lab today.
- Telefónica takes IoT further with Astrocast. Telefónica delivers state-of-the-art IoT equipment and connectivity for both personal and industrial use. With Telefónica sensors, customers can track, secure, optimize and even predict the maintenance needs of the assets they are tracking. From cars to people, Telefónica is enabling companies to create their own IoT journey. By collaborating with Astrocast they can take the journey further, faster.
- "The key IoT-use case is to never lose track of your assets. Using Astrocast nanosatellite network, we can extend our trackers' reachability worldwide in order to enable customers to collect critical data in areas that were not reachable before in an economically reasonable way," said Peer Lodbrok, Director MNC Germany & Switzerland of Telefónica Global Solutions.
• July 26, 2021: Communications satellites bring us television, telephone, TV and internet connectivity. They are big beasts, can be as tall and heavy as an elephant, cost above 100 million to build, and as much again to be launched to their geostationary orbit 35,786 km above the equator. These satellites are powerful but offer costly service, often too expensive for applications that need just a tiny little amount of data transmitted. In fact, there are countless man-made objects all around the world that would require exactly that: Picture buoys in the middle of the ocean that measure the salinity of the water. A piece of industrial equipment in a jungle that needs to be tracked. A gas or water tank in a remote desert, whose proprietor would like to know from time to time how much there is left in it. For such objects, it would be enough if they would just send a text message home from time to time – but of course, there is no mobile coverage where they are. In fact, on about 90% of earth's surface, there is no signal at all, as these vast land masses aren't even covered by 2G service. The only way to communicate, hence, is via satellite. And the way to make communication via satellite cheaper is by shrinking them. 12)
- Fabien Jordan is a pioneer when it comes to satellites of the smaller kind. As an Electrical Systems Engineer for the Swiss Space Center of EPFL in Lausanne, he worked on Switzerland's first satellite, the SwissCube. Compared to the elephant satellites in space, this was a small rabbit, weighing just one kilogram. Fabien leveraged the experience he gained with this project and founded Astrocast in 2014 together with Space Systems Engineer Federico Belloni. Their vision was to create global direct-to-satellite communication for the emerging Internet of Things. Now, the company is getting there, as its commercial service is about to be launched.
- In a small office building close to Lausanne, engineers are busy building Astrocast's nanosatellites. They are 3U satellites, one "U" refers to the standard unit of 10x10x10 centimeters. In 2021, Astrocast launched 10 of them already. They are fully functional and rotate about a dozen times around the earth in a distance of about 500 km. Because they aren't geostationary, Astrocast needs 100 of them to cover every spot of the earth all the time. The company is on track to reach that goal by 2024. However, for applications that don't need constant connectivity, a smaller constellation is already good enough, which means that Astrocast's system already provides commercial value even when it's not complete.
- To connect to the satellites, an object needs to be equipped with an antenna. In this case, this antenna is just a small chip with very low power consumption, orders of magnitude less power-hungry than what competitors can offer. (The reason for this is that through a partnership, Astrocast can use a frequency called L-Band that allows for miniaturized antennas.) This matters; if you have thousands of assets in the middle of nowhere, you don't want to visit them often to replace batteries.
- Launching small satellites into space has become a big business. SpaceX with its Falcon 9 rocket has made launches more affordable, and the number of small satellites deployed every year has risen to a few hundreds. The satellite IoT market is expected to grow massively over the next few years. By 2025, the number of connected devices is estimated to surpass 30 million. Astrocast is well-positioned to grab a large share of this market because no other company will be able to deploy a comparable constellation of nanosatellites as quickly as they do. The startup is in advanced discussions with dozens of clients from diverse industries, and some of them plan to connect tens of thousands of devices as soon as they can.
- Even if the cost to build and launch one of Astrocast's satellites of about half a million dollars is fairly modest compared to larger satellites, the company still needs to raise a significant amount of capital to finance the whole constellation. (Having raised 22 million Francs in the past, Astrocast is currently raising up to 50 million Francs in a private placement.). This is why the company plans to go public and list on Euronext, to broaden its investor base. Astrocast believes it is in a good position to become a market leader in IoT. The chips and communication protocol were developed in-house, the company will control its whole system. And the management team has a strong track record in space. Chairman José Achache was director at the European Space Agency and architect of the Sentinel series of satellites of the Copernicus program. CFO Kjell Karlsen helped lead multinational spacecraft company Sea Launch for 14 years. And Corry Brennan, Head of Sales, has more than 20 years of experience in telecom and aerospace.
- As Astrocast launches more and more nanosatellites over the next few years, the availability of connections to the system will increase, and more and more customers will come on board. The business model is simple: Astrocast charges a monthly subscription fee for every device connected to its system. (It also sells the antenna chips to the clients, but aims to keep their price low to drive adoption.) Due to the significant capital expenditure for the launch of the satellite, the company will still be loss-making for at least 2022 and 2023. Astrocast is convinced that as a leading IoT company, it can offer high-margin data plans others simply cannot. Verve Ventures has backed the company as early as 2017, when we first invested in Astrocast's Seed financing round.
• January 25, 2021: Today aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket, aboard Spaceflight rideshare services, the first 5 nanosatellites of the Astrocast Nanosatellite IoT Network were launch. With this launch Astrocast goes commercial and begins to enable companies to track, measure, manage, communicate and control IoT assets from the world's most remote regions. 13)
- "This is a critical milestone for both Astrocast and a long list of customers and partners. With the Astrocast Network our customers will have two-way communications with their IoT assets even into some of the world's most remote and challenging regions. And these 5 satellites are just the beginning," says Fabien Jordan, Astrocast CEO.
- And these 5 satellites aren't just any satellites. This is the most advanced nanosatellite constellations in the world today. We have increased the power and performance of our nanosatellites significantly. Today's Astrocast nanosatellites have 100 times more communication speed and onboard storage. Our Network also features:
a) Low-latency communications from asset all the way back to headquarters
b) Global L-band spectrum
c) Ultra-low power terminals with low-profile patch antennas
d) Two-way communications
e) Satellite propulsion to avoid debris in space
f) In addition, the Astronode S is two to three times less expensive than conventional bidirectional satellite IoT terminals.
- And the best is yet to come. We are moving aggressively to grow this constellation and will have two more launches within the year for a total of 20 satellites by year end. So watch this space. We have a lot more to show you!
1) "Astrocast," URL: https://www.astrocast.com/technology/
2) Markus Rothacher, Michael Meindl, Marcel Joss, Erich Styger, "Requirements for CubeSats:the Astrocast CubeSat Mission," ILRS Technical Workshop 2017, Riga, 2 October, 2017, URL: https://cddis.nasa.gov/2017_Technical_Workshop/docs
4) Jeff Foust, "SpaceX launches second dedicated rideshare mission," SpaceNews, 30 June 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/spacex-launches-second-dedicated-rideshare-mission/
5) "The Astrocast Constellation Keeps Growing," Astrocast, 2 July 2021, URL: https://www.astrocast.com/news/astrocast-constellation-keeps-growing/
6) Stephen Clark, "SpaceX smashes record with launch of 143 small satellites," Spaceflight Now, 24 January 2021, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/01/24/spacex-launches-record-setting-rideshare-mission-with-143-small-satellites/
7) "PSLV-C45/EMISAT Mission," ISRO, 1 April 2019, URL: https://www.isro.gov.in/launcher/pslv-c45-emisat-mission
9) "Isar Aerospace signs firm launch contract with Swiss IoT network company Astrocast," Astrocast, 15 December 2021, URL: https://www.astrocast.com/news/astrocast-isar-aerospace-launch-contract/
10) "Astrocast and iWire sign a partnership for the development of an IoT end-to-end solution in the asset tracking area using Sigfox and Astrocast Satellite IoT connectivity," Astrocast, 20 October 2021, URL: https://tinyurl.com/p7jdwjj8
11) "Astrocast and Telefónica collaborate on IoT," Astrocast Press Release, 31 August 2021, URL: https://www.astrocast.com/news/astrocast-telefonica-iot-project/
12) "How Astrocast connects things in the middle of nowhere," Verve Ventures, 26 July 2021, URL: https://www.verve.vc/blog/how-astrocast-connects-things-in-the-middle-of-nowhere/
13) Erica Hooper Lee, "The Astrocast Nanosatellite IoT Network is Live!," Astrocast Press Release, 25 January 2021, URL: https://www.astrocast.com/news/the-astrocast-nanosatellite-iot-network-is-live/
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).