At 02:51 BST this morning the second satellite from the Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) Programme was successfully launched on board the Arianespace Vega SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) rocket from Guiana Space Centre. IOD-5 TARS has been manufactured and integrated in the UK with Kepler Communications’ innovative connectivity payload which was developed in their Canadian headquarters.
IOD-5 TARS is the third demonstrator mission in Kepler’s GEN1 constellation, a global data backhaul service. The first two GEN1 satellites, KIPP and CASE, were launched in 2018 and have been successfully demonstrating the first Ku service to be provided from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). With IOD-5 TARS’s additional features, Kepler are planning to demonstrate further capability to provide a narrowband IoT (Internet of Things) service, with this being the first mission to provide Ku and narrowband services from a single LEO platform.
IOD-5 TARS in the launcher on the Vega Rocket.
Following the IOD-5 partnership announced in 2018, Kepler have begun to establish a UK presence, with UK-based employees and utilising the UK supply chain. Aided by UK Space Agency funding, the Catapult have been providing Kepler with business strategy support and market intelligence discovery, to boost commercialisation opportunities of the service in preparation for the full constellation.
Despite the advanced capabilities of terrestrial communications available now and with wider roll out of 5G, cellular infrastructure still lacks the global coverage required by many IoT service providers, developers, and customers. In contrast, traditional communications satellites in geostationary (GEO) orbit, 36,000km above Earth, can provide worldwide coverage but suffer from slower transfer of data due to the distance. The development of LEO satellite communications services will bring together wide coverage along with lower latency and lower costs than the bigger GEO satellites, providing a more affordable and valuable service to customers.
Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult, said: “We have been delighted to work with Kepler Communications on this mission and to build on our Canada-UK relationship. With LEO satellite communications becoming a necessary and fast-growing sector, we are looking forward to seeing IOD-5 TARS support this growth with its new IoT service capabilities.”
Mina Mitry, CEO at Kepler Communications, said: “Work with the Catapult programme has been instrumental to our international expansion and the continued growth of our service offerings. With the Catapult’s technical, market, and financial support we were able to accelerate the development of our business plan. We look forward to continuing our international expansion and delivering market leading services with TARS joining our fleet of satellites.”
IOD-5 TARS was built by AAC Clyde Space and the launch was provided by Innovative Space Logistics B.V. It is expected to begin delivering data immediately upon completing the commissioning process in early Q3, and the full constellation, already in production, will begin launching later this year.