Fundamental changes ahead as ground systems prepare for constellations, 5G

When Spire Global was building a constellation of cubesats to gather maritime and weather data in 2015, the startup built its own UHF ground station network. Now, most startups wouldn’t consider building their own ground systems because they can rely on a growing roster of companies that specialize in handling data flowing between satellites and ground networks.

“Most satellite flyers and data collectors are not particularly keen on spending energy on the ground solution because it’s not core to their interest or capabilities,” said Mike Carey, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Atlas Space Operations, a Traverse City, Michigan, company that offers satellite communications as a service. “We see movement away from companies building their own networks and more reliance on a service-based model.”

The ground systems business has changed dramatically in recent years thanks to a massive increase in data volume, advanced technology and fresh competition. More change is coming as constellations in low Earth orbit multiply and individual satellites collect and transmit more data than ever before.

“The amount of data coming from satellites will increase tremendously in the coming 10 years,” said Stefan Gustafsson, Swedish Space Corp. senior vice president for strategy and sustainable business. To cope, companies need to adopt new methodologies to transfer data from space to Earth in addition to focusing on data management throughout the chain from the satellite to the customer, including onboard the satellite and at the ground stations, he added.