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As part of the connectivity and secure communications ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) activities, CASSIS (Connected Automotive Satellite Service Integrated System) aims at globally connecting ‘users on the move’ to the internet at high speed and low cost. Vehicles are simultaneously the source and recipient of large amounts of geo-referenced and time-tagged data.
There is increased awareness that the value and exploitation of this data has the potential to deliver immense economic and social benefits. Technology developed in the CASSIS project consists of a low profile, electronically-steerable antenna for Low Earth Orbit (LEO). In the automotive sector, this aims to provide satellite communications at a high frequency, bandwidth and throughput at low cost and with production scalability.
The Next Generation of Connected & Autonomous Vehicles
Over a quarter (27%) of automotive use cases will require satellite connectivity by 2025, and ubiquitous, high-speed connectivity will not be possible through the 4G/5G cellular network alone.
Objectives & Challenges
The objectives of the CASSIS project are to create ecosystems for the growth of the space sector and stimulate the UK space sector supply chain, specifically in satellite technology for automotive applications. This is achieved through:
- Bringing together technical elements, academic research and supply chains
- Design, simulation and validation of novel antenna
- Integration and development of Radio-Frequency Integrated Circuitry (RFIC) and Radio Frequency Module (RFM) technology
- Design for manufacturing and assembly capability, with a goal of low-cost and high-volume manufacturability
- Tier 1 industry engagement
As the technology currently sits in a yet-to-exist commercial domain, challenges addressed will be the research and development of Ka-band SATCOM terminals for LEO satellites. This therefore requires novel thinking and problem solving; all with complex system design and careful assumption management. Specifically, the technical challenges being faced in this project are:
- The Integrated Circuit (IC) industry slowing down during COVID-19, accelerating the programme to a second technology iteration
- Integration conflicts due to limited fabricators capable of mounting the novel IC hardware (now significantly improved in our second design iteration)
- Future challenges of ramping up to a full-scale antenna array
The CASSIS terminal consists of two primary modules. The first module contains a RFIC, a digital beamformer, an antenna control unit and flat panel phased array antennas (of variable size). These are the key innovations of the RF subsystem. The high-performance beam steering enabled by these components allows High-throughput Satellite (HTS) connectivity, while in view. The second module, the Connectivity Control Module (CCM) enables switching between LEO and GEO (Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit) satellite networks, dependent on signal thresholds. This dynamic ability to switch networks enables constant connectivity for the vehicle.
The Ka band IC will communicate with GEO and LEO satellites, 4G/5G infrastructure and Wi-Fi communications to deliver high-capacity connectivity to cars (Image: The Satellite Applications Catapult)
The capability to interface with third party satellite modems further enhances the marketability of the terminal by not relying on a single source provider. In an industry poised for significant technological advances, a further strength of this capability is the increase in resilience to external market changes. The terminal will also ensure both line-fit and retro fitting to existing vehicles. A key aspect is retaining affordability as a consumer-scale automotive communications module, in order to maximise uptake by the automotive sector.
Image: Key components of the system architecture developed in CASSIS are highlighted orange.
Established in 2001, EnSilicia has over 20 years’ industry experience. Originally a specialist consultancy designing ICs on a contract basis and now with a fabless semiconductor business model, it has seen exponential growth as an approved supplier to some of the world’s largest automotive and industrial OEMs. Listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange in May 2022, EnSilicia has a diverse customer base ranging from global corporations and OEMs to technology startups. This includes automotive tier one suppliers, industrial enterprises and large software companies and service providers developing proprietary hardware.
As the need for low cost satellite terminals increases and is used in more diverse applications, the ability to implement systems in CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology ubiquitously used to manufacture today’s ICs, rather than alternative IC production processes, is crucial. As technology develops integrating into more diverse applications the requisite for this will only continue in one way; a trend CEO Ian Lankshear recognises.
“Ka band technologies are set to play an increasingly critical role in enabling the next-generation of low-cost satellite and 5G communications systems. EnSilica’s mmWave team’s expertise, coupled with the company’s automotive Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) supply strategy, ideally position us to help our customers develop such ICs in CMOS and address this growing need.”
Ian Lankshear, CEO at EnSilica (Speaking to EE Times Europe)
Image: Ensilica’s Ka band transceiver IC will provide connectivity to vehicles when no 5G or 4G networks are available (Image: Ensilica)
Part of the international Celestia Technologies Group, Celestia UK is a hi-tech startup based in Edinburgh and Oxford. In 2021, Dr. Malachy Devlin from the Scotland 5G Centre was appointed as CEO. Celestia UK are experts in antenna, radio frequency and Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technologies. Its focus within the CASSIS project is the design of an innovative phased-array antenna solution allowing for HTS connectivity.
“As CEO working with an extremely capable team, I am relishing the challenge of bringing our transformative technology solutions to market”
Dr Malachy Devlin, CEO of Celestia UK
The primary benefit of the CASSIS terminal is the provision of constant connectivity to the user, with seamless switching between satellite networks across different orbits. Future developments will enable switching between terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks. Through utilisation of the compact phased array antenna, the terminal can track and communicate with LEO, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and GEO satellites leveraging the latest Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standards. Both the low-profile antenna and small electronics assembly allow for integration with road vehicles. The dual companion hotspot and standalone infotainment modes can provide options for in-vehicle connectivity too.
With constant connection possible, a multitude of beneficial environmental factors arise. Efficient navigation for end users can be sustained through areas with limited or no terrestrial signal coverage. It is also plausible that navigational redirections will become more holistic for traffic flow, reducing our carbon footprint. Higher capacity connectivity, at a lower cost, looks set to provide a platform for enhanced infotainment for both drivers and passengers in multiple transport markets.
One key market Ian Lankshear has also mentioned is the rail industry. Future projects including HS2 could see customers benefit from stable and reliable connectivity throughout their journey. By connecting ‘users on the move’ in this market, the social and environmental benefits would outweigh alternate methods of long-distance domestic travel.
Once the second development iteration of reference antenna board PCBs is completed, the consortium will use the prototype to engage with Tier 1 and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to pursue a research and development relationship and progress CASSIS technology into a commercial product.
Performance of the second design iteration of the RFIC has been successfully validated. The consortium is continuing to work on the development of the second design iteration of the Radio Frequency Monitoring (RFM) reference board prototype. Antenna measurements have been taken to validate the design simulations. The consortium is developing opportunities for the continuation and exploitation of CASSIS technology.