RBC Signals signs up smallsat constellation customer

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WASHINGTON — RBC Signals, a company that provides a global network of ground stations by using excess capacity from existing facilities, has signed up a company developing a small satellite constellation as an early customer.

Seattle-based RBC Signals said June 26 that it was providing communications for the first three cubesats for Sky and Space Global, launched June 23 as secondary payloads on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Sky and Space Global, a company with European and Israeli offices but listed on the Australian stock exchange, ultimately plans to deploy 200 cubesats to provide communications services in equatorial regions. The three satellites launched on the PSLV, called the “3 Diamonds,” are technology demonstrators for the later constellation.

Sky and Space Global used an RBC Signals ground station in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for initial communications with the satellites after their launch. RBC Signals provides ongoing communications services for the satellites, and also assisted in getting regulatory approvals with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

This is not the first customer for RBC Signals, company co-founder and chief executive Christopher Richins said in a June 26 interview. “We provide services daily to other customers around the world,” he said. “This is the first customer that we’ve supported from launch, though.”

He didn’t identify those other customers, but he said they are companies in the Earth observation market. “We’re seeing a lot of Earth observation spacecraft,” he said. “That is a segment we’re keenly focused on.”

The company also has seen a surge of interest from amateur satellites, such as those built by universities. “The revenues associated with those amateur spacecraft aren’t necessarily going to drive the market, but we do see that as a leading indicator of more interest in developing those technologies.”

While RBC Signals has its own ground station in Alaska, the company primarily relies on partnerships with a wide range of ground stations owned and operated by others. The company takes advantage of excess capacity on those stations to provide communications services to its customers.

“These are people that own antennas for their own purposes,” he said, either operating their own satellites or downlinking data from other satellites. “There is significant excess capacity that we’re able to make available on the market. It really leverages some of the concepts of the sharing economy.”

For satellite operators, RBC Signals offers a global network of more than 30 antennas worldwide, letting operators be in more frequent contact with their satellites. “It allows them to bring home more data more efficiently,” he said, enabling low-latency or even real-time communications as well.

Richins said the company can handle communications in a variety of bands. UHF is commonly used for telemetry, although he said the growing number of smallsats using that frequency range requires increased coordination. RBC is using S- and X-band for downlinking data, with some satellites starting to move into Ka-band for higher data rates.

He added the company is making preparations to handle optical communications as well. “We have some partnerships that we are developing to have that capability ready for when those spacecraft start to launch,” he said. “Our services will be ready as those spacecraft start to launch.”