Spire Global adding high-capacity Ku-band antennas to satellites

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TAMPA, Fla. — Spire Global said May 10 it is installing Ku-band antennas from fellow smallsat operator Kepler Communications on at least three satellites to offer higher capacity data services beginning next year.

Their deal enables Spire to add high-speed Ku-band capabilities to its fleet in low Earth orbit under Kepler’s existing regulatory licenses, and includes an option to scale up to 50 satellites.

U.S.-based Spire currently provides weather and tracking services with more than 100 satellites in LEO that transmit data in UHF, S and X-bands.

The company also provides a service that offers its technology, ground station network and automated operations systems to others for deploying their own applications and sensors to orbit relatively quickly.

With a Ku-band software-defined radio from Canada-based Kepler, a Spire satellite would be able to send larger amounts of data back to Earth for more data-intensive operations. 

Spire head of communications Hillary Yaffe said the Ku-band payload will benefit customers that include Canadian startup NorthStar Earth & Space, which March 16 said Spire will deliver and operate satellites focused on space situational awareness and debris monitoring.

Spire’s deal with NorthStar is for an initial three 12-unit cubesats for launch in 2023, with an option to expand to a full constellation of dozens of satellites.

Service expansion 

Kepler said its 19 satellites each have a variant of the Ku-band payload for a constellation that generates most of its revenues from providing connectivity to devices beyond the reach of terrestrial networks.

The Canadian company has been seeking to expand into new markets after raising $60 million in June, including plans for data-relay services with an S-band terminal that successfully tested inter-satellite links earlier this year.

In a separate deal announced Dec. 16, Kepler said it plans to test its data relay terminal on a Spire nanosatellite slated to launch late in 2022.

Flown as a hosted payload, Kepler’s new Ku-band service includes the ground infrastructure needed to provide an end-to-end data transmission service.

Mina Mitry, Kepler’s CEO, said undisclosed customers are already using the Ku-band terminals on its satellites to “transmit large quantities of data point-to-point across the globe quickly.”

These customers are using a new service Kepler calls Global Data Services (GDS), he said, which is designed to be compatible with third-party fixed, maritime and next-generation flat panel antennas. 

According to Kepler, GDS has achieved more than 300 megabits per second (Mbps) of data speeds from LEO to a 3.4-meter dish on the ground with its Ku-band technology — and 240 Mbps on a Kymeta flat panel antenna.

“GDS has helped our customers move data and given us valuable flight heritage for our next generation Ku-Band service – testing and validating the technology on the 19 satellites on-orbit,” Mitry said via email.

He declined to disclose a dollar value for its Ku-band antenna contract with Spire, which went public in August by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

The first Spire satellites with Ku-band service are slated to launch in early 2023.

While the standard version of Kepler’s Ku-band software-defined radio is designed for satellites in LEO, Mitry said its in-house manufacturing capabilities enable the company to adapt the technology for other orbits and customer needs.