Satellite-filled Sky for New Apps & Broadband in 2017 and Beyond

By Doug Mohney December 21, 2016

New business opportunities from satellites are emerging – are you looking at them today? Once an exotic tool for governments and the Fortune 500, satellites are now beaming back increasing amounts of information for the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as providing more imagery of what is happening on the Earth. Faster and more prolific broadband networks such as OneWeb are in the pipeline and will deliver many more options for bandwidth in the future, regardless of where you may be.

Seattle-based BlackSky rolled out its "global intelligence platform" last week, tapping into its current and future feeds of real-time satellite imagery and melding it with social media and other data to reveal timely and relevant insights about specific topics or locations. The new platform is currently in early adoption – I guess beta is out of vogue these days – with a small group of high-profile customers, including the World Bank, RS Metrics, and the United Nations.

Today, BlackSky fuses data from 10 high-resolution satellites with information from other sources, including news outlets and social media.  Curated data feeds can be created by location, such as port, pipeline, or border, or theme; such as energy, natural disasters, health, or natural disaster.  There's a lot of machine learning and Big Data happening on the back end to blend together images with data for customized and prioritized information.

Imagine if you wanted to monitor an area in real time – say you are Rich Tehrani and want to keep track of what's going in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida before IT EXPO in early February.   Rich (or you) could set up an automatic feed to monitor what's going on within 50 kilometers of the conference center (or any other place) and send an alert if there's a natural disaster or man-made conflict going on.  Geo-tagged social media pictures and feeds can be matched up with overhead imagery to provide context and perspective to global operations.   

Setup of viewing, purchasing, and downloading of imagery is all done through a stock Web portal, with the "special sauce" being the ability to search, request or even ask to have a satellite picture taken easily and securely.  

BlackSky currently has a group of different satellite types it gets images from, but starting next year it is putting up a dedicated and purpose-built 60 satellite constellation, able to provide one meter resolution on any spot in the world in an hour once all the satellites are in place.  The first four satellites are being launched in 2017 with the full constellation expected to be completed by 2020.  Other companies, such as Google's Terra Bella and Planet (yes, just Planet), are also putting up networks, but BlackSky seems to have found a unique combination (for now) of putting imagery, social media, and a Web-friendly interface together.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is getting a substantial upgrade starting in early 2017.  The long-standing 66 satellite Iridium network is being refreshed with new Iridium NEXT satellites, with the first 10 satellites going up in early January onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission out of Vandenberg AFB in California.  Iridium NEXT will provide more bandwidth to both users and IoT devices while covering the world.  Monitoring aircraft, fishing vessels, shipping containers, and other "things" that readily move outside of normal cellular coverage can all be tracked and communicated with by using Iridium NEXT.

For dedicated worldwide global bandwidth, OneWeb may hold the win in the future.  The U.S. company secured $1.2 billion in capital to start building its 700ish low-flying satellites, starting in 2018.  Already, OneWeb has started construction on a dedicated factory outside of NASA's Kennedy Space Center to crank out several satellites per day.

The first satellites are expected to go into orbit in 2019-2020 with the full constellation going into operation by 2022.  The entire OneWeb network is expected to provide more than 10 Terabits per second ( Tbps) of communications capacity, with ground stations capable of supporting 50 Mbps or more locally.

Keep in mind the companies cited above – BlackSky, Iridium, and OneWeb – are only a handful of the emerging satellite businesses coming online.  More and more, satellite is less "satellite" and more a combination of Big Data collection, analytics and machine learning (A&MI), and IoT, where the "thing" is the actual satellite collecting or moving information.  There are numerous opportunities with established and start-up companies that could prove to be fruitful in the years to come.




Edited by Alicia Young

Contributing Editor

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