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

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

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

US-based Spire currently provides weather and tracking services with more than 100 satellites in LEO transmitting data in the UHF, S and X bands.

The company also provides a service that offers its technology, network of ground stations and automated operations systems to others to deploy their own applications and sensors into orbit relatively quickly.

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

Spire’s chief communications officer, Hillary Yaffe, said the Ku-band payload will benefit customers including Canadian startup NorthStar Earth & Space, which on March 16 said Spire deliver and operate satellites focused on space situational awareness and debris monitoring.

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

Service Expansion

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

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

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

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

Mina Mitry, chief executive of Kepler, said undisclosed customers are already using the Ku-band terminals on their satellites to “transmit large amounts of point-to-point data around the world rapidly.”

These customers are using a new service that Kepler calls Global Data Services (GDS), it 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) 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 provided us with valuable flight heritage for our next-generation Ku-band service, testing and validating the technology on all 19 satellites in orbit,” Mitry said by email.

It declined to disclose the dollar value of its Ku-band antenna contract with Spire, which was made public in August by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

The first Spire satellites with Ku-band service are scheduled 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 allow the company to adapt the technology for other orbits and customer needs.

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