Kepler delivers 120 Mbps uplink to Arctic via satellite broadband

The demonstration marks the first time ever that the central Arctic has been successfully connected through a high-bandwidth satellite network. (Stephan Hendricks/Kepler Communications)

Kepler Communications has claimed a first in the Arctic, successfully delivering more than 100 Mbps broadband connectivity via its nanosatellite network to scientists taking part in a massive research expedition in the region.

Toronto-based Kepler on Thursday said that it demonstrated data rates of 38 Mbps downlink and 120 Mbps uplink aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern to a 2.4m Ku-band Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT). The ship is home to the international MOSAiC expedition that involves hundreds of scientists and operations crews examining the effects of climate change on the Arctic.

The 12-month expedition is a joint initiative of 19 countries, and Kepler is providing high-bandwidth satellite connectivity from low-Earth orbit (LEO) to help the team share large data files between the vessel and shore.

Kepler’s satellites are placed around 575 km from Earth, so the closer location helps significantly reduce latency compared to geostationary (GEO) satellites that are 35,000 km from Earth.

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“Our Global Data Service provides a cost-effective means to transfer large data volumes that will be gathered over the course of MOSAiC,” said Mina Mitry, CEO at Kepler, in statement. “Rather than only storing data locally and analyzing once physical storage can be sent back with supply vessels, we are giving scientists the ability to continuously transfer test and housekeeping data sets over our unique LEO satellite network.”

The company said the recent data transfer marks the first time ever that the central Arctic has been successfully connected through a high-bandwidth satellite network. When its two polar-orbiting satellites pass over the vessel, Kepler is providing 100-times higher data speeds than would otherwise be possible as the ship, located around 85°N, is far out of the range of traditional high-throughput satellites.

"The high polar regions are the last frontiers of the globe where high bandwidth data connections could not be established so far,” outlined Professor Markus Rex, MOSAiC project leader and atmospheric scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam. “Kepler's new Global Data Service now enables us to send back bulk data, including key data files for monitoring the status of instruments together with experts at home. This will contribute to the success of MOSAiC."

MOSAiC began in September, and is the largest expedition to the North Pole in history. For the next year, the team will drift along with the ice sheet, hoping ultimately to better assess the future of Earth’s climate.

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Kepler launched the first of two demo satellites, KIPP, in January 2018, which the company said was the first commercial Ku-band LEO satellite ever launched. The second followed in November and those two satellites currently in orbit are delivering high-capacity data transfers for early customers, like the Arctic research team.

Kepler secured FCC approval (PDF) in November 2018 for its constellation of about 140 NGSO satellites in the 10.7-12.7 GHz and 14-14.5 GHz bands. It plans to launch those satellites in three incremental phases, starting next year through 2023. Kepler’s first batch is slated for deployment in Q2-Q3 2020, working with Innovative Space Logistics and GK launch Services to launch two nanosatellites into sun-synchronous orbit.

Kepler said its next-generation of satellites include both a high-capacity Ku-band communications system and a narrowband payload that can deliver high-speed data transfers as well as low-power, direct-to-satellite IoT connectivity.

When it proposed its NGSO constellation to the FCC, Kepler said each satellite has a novel Software Defined Radio, electronically steerable antenna array and networking protocol that has the potential to become the standard for satellite communications with dynamic links and variable channel size.

There are a number of companies launching satellites for connectivity including Space X’s Starlink network, which deployed 60 internet satellites in May, and plans for more than 7,000.