For more than thirty years Norwegian company KSAT (‘Kongsberg Satellite Services’) has been running and operating ground stations to receive data from satellites. Their other focus lies on services around the actual data. KSAT provides near real time monitoring services, which means that data is collected and delivered as a product less than ten minutes after the capture. KSAT President Rolf Skatteboe explains how clients have been using these data.
Of the 23 KSAT ground stations spread around the globe, consisting of more than 170 remotely controlled antennas, around ten of them are used for earth observation services. KSAT data hub and Headquarters are in Norway. KSAT also provides optimized locations for satellites in polar, inclined and equatorial orbits.
Sat data in the cloud
KSAT customers include both public and commercial users who have urgent, time-sensitive, operational requirements, as well as satellite owners and operators. For its data, KSAT is running a private cloud. “It’s compatible to other clouds. We can work with Amazon cloud, Google Cloud and Microsoft, to mention a few. At this moment, we do not have any specific government using cloud data, it is all private.”
As to a specific focus area, the maritime sector is of importance: “Ship detection is a big thing these days. When piracy was at its peak, one of the challenges was the size of the boats. Some pirates have wooden boats, which are difficult to see from a radar. But now the quality of software solutions has increased, as have the number of satellites, so these services became much more useful.” Radar images form the basis of this service, in combination with the Automatic Identification system for ships. “Every ship of certain size needs to inform who they are, but they can fake it, so it is not that secure … it just helps to identify the good guys. The identification system merely limits the number of ships that a satellite needs to look at.” There are different ways of doing analytics as well. “If you take a fishing vessel as an example, it would act in a specific ‘fishing pattern’. And if a tanker is going from A to B and, suddenly, it is doing something else, you would really like to look at it.”
Satellites adopting to ground station
The other focus within KSAT is to make a satellite adopt to the ground station as opposed to a ground station adopting to the satellite. “When you build a satellite, you are focusing on that thing you are building; it is the dearest thing in your life. And you design it only with your own requirements in mind. Only later you will realise that you need to record the data once it’s on the ground. And suddenly, you will need a ground segment, which becomes super expensive if you have a lot of very special stuff on your satellite. But of course, that can be fixed. We can help you with that.”
Dedicated ground stations
KSAT also builds dedicated ground segments for clients. “Of course, that will cost you a lot of money. Therefore, the only ones that we can afford right now are the biggest institutional users. They make their own operational standards. They want to make sure that the systems are a 100 per cent reliable. For example, we are supporting Nova, the US Geological Survey. They are using their service to decide whether they should evacuate the East Coast in case of a hurricane. That system has to be super reliable, super accurate and it has to be correct. And that comes with a price.” With all the on-board knowledge within KSAT, they don’t consider themselves as being ‘consultants’, ‘trainers’ or ‘teachers’. “No, we don’t. To us, it is just discussions. It’s part of our job and our job is to make it as efficient and cheap as possible.”
Ground stations where the market asks for it
With the amount of ground stations that KSAT currently owns, its growth path is to develop ground stations where the market asks for it, instead of deciding where to build the next one. “We try to help the market to optimize their investments. For example, if a customer wants to have a ground station in Australia, where we already have one in New Zealand, we will ask if they really need it to be in Australia. or it is better to share the cost and come to New Zealand. And we have seen that happen. The predicted number of satellites are high and there are 1500 flying satellites and 3500 predicted launches to be conservative.”
Right now, IoT applications are coming. The Internet of Things, tracking devices, that’s a short answer, different types of tracking devices. Stuff that moves and stuff that you want to control from space from many locations. It needs to be faster by default. You cannot monitor a tracker once in every three days. That is why you need more satellites, smaller satellites, cheaper satellites. It is an interesting business and area. On the application side, I personally think the maritime surveillance is focused on illegal fishery and ship detection. There, IoT will be a good market.”