Telesat will use Google’s network operating system. Will Google have access to the data? A global backbone?
Aalyria, a new space internet company, has just come out of stealth mode. It is based on work done on Alphabet Loon’s “moonshot” project, and Alphabet transferred nearly a decade of technology intellectual property, patents, office space, and other assets to Aalyria in exchange for participation in the capital of the company. Spacetime is Aalyria’s smart grid orchestration technology, and Tightbeam is its advanced atmospheric laser communication technology.
Spacetime is a multi-layered, multi-orbit, software-defined networking system that was developed for Project Loon, one of Google’s early efforts to connect rural areas and developing countries. At one point, Telesat had agreed to use the Google network system to link its low Earth orbit and geostationary satellites, but Telesat has yet to launch its LEO constellation.
With the demise of the Loon project, the network management software was orphaned, but development has continued, and Aalyria claims that it “continually optimizes and evolves antenna link planning, traffic routing network and spectrum resources, responding in real time to changing network needs. .” It looks like a tall order with constantly moving satellites, planes, ships and vehicles, but the foundation was laid with drifting balloons.
It’s an impressive claim, but it’s not unique. Others are working on multi-orbit broadband networks and OneWeb recently signed an agreement for seamless interoperability between their low Earth orbit satellites, Intelsat geosynchronous satellites and aircraft.
Tightbeam is a different story – optical links are starting to be used between satellites in space, but as far as I know no one currently transmits optical data between satellites and Earth. Optical communication trumps radio frequency links in space because they are faster, more secure, and harder to jam than radio frequency, and terminals have lower mass and consume less power. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, rain, clouds, dust or heat distort and attenuate optical signals.
One can imagine building ground stations in places with dry climates and bypassing bad weather when it occurs, but Aalyria claims to have developed innovative hardware and algorithms that correct for these distortions, allowing them to transmit data across the planet. atmosphere at speeds of up to 1.6 terabits per second over hundreds of kilometres.
Recently, capacity limitations slowed down Space Starlink, triggering a shift to affordability-based pricing, and performance has continued to decline since then. Oversubscription in a local area or cell contributes to this decline, but, as Mike Puchol points out, scarcity of radio frequency spectrum for traffic between satellites and terrestrial gateways is also a constraint. Gateway congestion is already a problem, and Starlink and others plan to launch many more satellites. Puchol predicts that we will have optical links between the satellites and the gateways and speculates that they could use infrared frequencies. The Chinese are also working on optical communication and they have carried out high-speed laser tests via satellite on the ground.
No matter who does it first, we will eventually see optical links between the satellites and the ground. I haven’t seen any description of the Tightbeam technology or the results of tests and demonstrations, but if Aalyria’s technology lives up to its description, it is significant.
A few miscellaneous points:
- I don’t know where the name is Alyria just. I googled it and only got references to the company itself. (There have been tons of successes – the company is trending).
- I wonder if they plan to operate their own constellation or license the technology. I suspect future broadband licensees already have their own “Spacetime” but not their own “Tightbeam”. At some point, Aalyria (or Amazon, Microsoft, or Google) will deploy optical ground stations.
- I guess Tightbeam was developed by the Alphabet Taara project which was working on optical communication for Loon and other applications.
- I tried for a few days to get more information about Tightbeam and its performance. Technical documents, experimental results, patents, etc. but send an e-mail to Aalyria.com bounces.
- Finally, I note that the College of Advisors has eleven members, four of whom have prior experience in the Ministry of Defence. This may have helped Aalyria land an initial $8 million contract with the Defense Innovation Unit. Another member is Vint Cerf, co-designer of TCP/IP, vice president of Google and, more relevant in this context, longtime proponent of interplanetary networks. Only one employee is listed as an optical engineer, but board member Dr. Donald A. Cox III is an expert in optical communications.
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