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Kepler Largest Canadian Constellation Thanks to IOD Programme

Nathan Woodley
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Space

Our phones, devices and homes are getting smarter. 2030 figures anticipate 50 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) – more than double the recorded amount for 2018. Even at the time of the IoT’s inception (2008), there is said to have been more devices connected to the internet than people.

But increasing demand puts increasing pressure on the infrastructure supporting its usage. Industry and consumers require high-speed ubiquitous connections with the ability to transfer large volumes of data.

One way to keep up with demand, as Kepler Communications have demonstrated with the help of the IOD programme, is to develop a ground-breaking constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites providing high-speed ubiquitous connectivity designed to service IoT devices.

Kepler

Kepler Communications is a Canadian based start-up, founded by alumni of the University of Toronto’s aerospace community in 2015. Kepler’s ultimate goal is to provide internet access outside of Earth. As Kepler progresses towards this goal, the building blocks of the solution are being developed and commercialized to solve existing problems here on earth, as their Global Data Service and EverywhereIoT offerings demonstrate.

Within three years of starting, the company had launched their two first prototypes – KIPP and CASE. These served as technical demonstrations for Kepler’s Global Data Service (GDS), which aims to provide high-speed (low latency) internet via a constellation of LEO satellites. At altitudes of less than 1000km, LEO constellations provide higher speeds than traditional 30,000km+ Geostationary orbiting satellites due to the shorter distance the data needs to travel.

You would be right to think that Kepler’s Global Data Service sounds similar in concept to other LEO constellations offered by larger companies. But Kepler’s comes with a difference; by targeting industries such as maritime research rather than retail broadband customers, the company aims to support the transfer of huge quantities of data in markets where the alternative is filling up hard drives. Polarstern, an ice-breaking research vessel and one of Kepler’s anchor clients (no pun intended, I’m sure) is a prime example of the different market segment Kepler are positioning themselves towards. Seemingly similar but vastly different.

Later in 2018, Kepler joined the Satellite Application Catapult’s IOD programme with IOD-5 TARS (which, like the other satellites, were named after robots from the 2004 film Interstellar) having been awarded support based on their strong business case. KIPP and CASE were fundamental to this process as they proved the economics of the service, whether Kepler could deliver the software-defined radio, and helped determine what type of services the satellites could be used to deliver on.

IOD-5 TARS then provided the final service demonstration for GDS as well as proof for their EverywhereIoT product. This meant Kepler had to test features that would be key to a full customer serving fleet.

IOD-5 TARS was set to launch in late 2019, though due to setbacks, a global pandemic, and other related issues, the launch was pushed back to September 2020.

Despite this delay, IOD-5 TARS was able to successfully launch and prove the service capability of both Kepler’s GDS and EverywhereIoT products.

The IOD programme has since allowed Kepler to continue to grow their GEN1 constellation which, as of March 2021 and the launch of Kepler 6 and 7, is the largest constellation hosted by a Canadian company. Within six months of TARS’ launch, 12 GEN1 satellites were in operation; a feat credited to the support from the Satellite Applications Catapult.

IOD-5 TARS

The fifth contract to be signed, IOD-5 TARS, is the second completed In-Orbit Demonstration in the Satellite Applications Catapult’s IOD programme. According to Kepler Co-Founder & CEO Mina Mitry at the virtual launch event in 2020, jumping ahead of other missions signals the team’s commitment to serving the space community.

And Kepler has continued to do so. Thanks to IOD-5, Kepler’s accelerated international expansion has seen a subsidiary built in the United Kingdom for customer success and key research and development initiatives, with UK staff now supporting direct customer engagements in Europe. The result: customer engagements are now growing turnover within the UK, as part of Kepler’s subsidiary. An incredible achievement for both Kepler, the IOD programme, and the UK space ecosystem.

Throughout the programme, longstanding partners of Kepler, AAC Clyde Space, based in Glasgow, built the CubeSat satellites and along with the Catapult, produced many iterations of TARS to continuously improve the satellite. Iterations which were instrumental in the success of the mission.

Moving forward, Kepler now benefits from key technical experts in the UK for ground station infrastructure, protocol development, and regulatory support, on top of initial market access and the review of market segmentation the Catapult was able to provide as part of the IOD programme.  When asked to reflect on the impact of IOD on Kepler, Mina Mitry responded with “IOD has been instrumental to the TARS program.  Though the greatest impact on Kepler has been the acceleration of our UK expansion and the addition of key resources to our team.  This growth continues after the launch of TARS and will continue as our global business continues to build.”

Future IOD Missions

Though the IOD programme is for service demonstrations, it is not reserved solely for services ready satellites. The Catapult worked extensively with Kepler to determine a service offering for around 4 months before embarking on the IOD programme. Companies who feel they are at the tech demonstration phase are encouraged to get in touch with the Catapult.

Applications are now open for IOD-6. To apply or find out more, please visit: https://sa.catapult.org.uk/iod/