Giant satellites in high low-earth orbit to provide internet directly to smartphones

Rob Hoyt of Tethers Unlimited presented “In-Space Recycling and Manufacturing” at the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) Working Group Presentations. The FISO (Future In-Space Operations) Telecon Series hosts the presentations. As of August 2015, Dan Dumbacher, former Deputy AA of HEOMD at NASA HQ and Director of the Engineering Directorate at MSFC, as well as a leader in major NASA programs, now on the faculty of Purdue University, has joined as a FISO telecon co-chair. This is not a NASA telecon.

Tethers Unlimited work is one of four projects out of 150+ NASA Innovative Advanced Concept projects that were highlighted in a NASA technology review.

Rob Hoyt described several projects which could lead to the construction of 27 large high low-earth orbit satellites that could provide high-speed internet directly to smartphones.

First they are working on a platform of several satellites in geosynchronous and other orbits. They would all share electricity, data and other services. This would improve the profitability of the satellites.

They are also working on the construction of large antennas in orbit. The would be able to provide 12 gigabits per second internet from geosynchronous orbit. There is a 2017 patent for the Orbweaver system for building large antennas in orbit.

June 2017, Firmamentum, a division of Tethers Unlimited got a contract from DARPA to develop a system that would use in-space manufacturing and robotic assembly to construct on orbit a small satellite able to provide high-bandwidth satellite communications (SATCOM) services to mobile receivers on the ground. Under the OrbWeaver Direct-to-Phase-II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) effort, Firmamentum aims to combine its technologies for in-space recycling, in-space manufacturing, and robotic assembly to create a system that could launch as a secondary payload on an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).

This system would recycle a structural element of that rocket, known as an EELV Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) ring, by converting the ring’s aluminum material into a very large, high-precision antenna reflector. The OrbWeaver payload would then attach this large antenna to an array of TUI’s SWIFT® software defined radios launched with the OrbWeaver payload to create a small satellite capable of delivering up to 12 gigabits per second of data to K-band very small aperture terminals (VSAT) on the ground.

They are creating an open interface standard for satellites to be plugged into a common platform.

If the platforms were plugged in with multiple large antenna satellites, they could provide internet to large areas of the earth. 27 of them would be able to provide internet everywhere over the earth to smartphones.

All of the technological innovations could be proven within seven years so that funding could be raised to build the direct internet satellite to smartphone global communication grid.

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