In Space Comms, All Roads Lead to Ground

By ATLAS SPace Operations

ATLAS Space Operations, like many technology start-ups, began from opportunity and necessity. Our founders have over one hundred years of experience in the space industry, and each of them encountered the restrictive practices of legacy ground infrastructure. A company would come along with a visionary idea like Earth observation for the purpose of arctic ice measurement or wildfire tracking, and even with the right resources to complete their project, they faced one common barrier: efficiently getting their data from space.

All of the innovation in the launch and satellite sectors created a heavy burden on ground infrastructure, which led to an industry-wide data bottleneck. At this time, the only options for new space companies were to either purchase and operate their own antennas, or contract with an expensive legacy ground-side satellite communications company — both options being prohibitive in their cost and scale.

This is where ATLAS saw an opportunity. We recognized that there was tremendous potential in empowering and enabling access to space for newcomers. These new space companies would need a ground communications solution that could accommodate and scale with them, while also helping larger companies augment their initiatives and work in a more agile fashion.

We knew the players, we knew the needs, and we knew what to do — but first we needed to expand our footprint. ATLAS began developing a global network of carefully selected ground sites from which to send and receive data. The process of ground site acquisition and development is complex. Our sites must first be positioned in a manner that provides maximum exposure for the orbits of our potential clients. Consequently, geographical considerations are the foremost parameters, but the process quickly becomes more involved with issues such as licensing, infrastructure development and maintenance, and technological upgrades.

To best understand what is at stake for companies doing business in space, let’s take the example of a company that performs Earth observation with their satellites to track pollution density and direction. We’ll call them EnviroSat.

Most aspects of EnviroSat’s project are within their control, such as the capabilities of their satellite, their launch partner, and the satellite’s orbit. When it comes to retrieving their valuable data, however, they become subject to the capabilities of their ground infrastructure in order to efficiently and consistently gather data. Because of the altitude of the satellite and its transmission requirements, it is crucial for antennas to be below the path of the satellite, ready to receive or send data. The need for close proximity and clear lines of sight between a satellite and antenna is what makes the location of a ground site so critical, and it’s why ATLAS has established ten strategically located Earth stations around the world to provide this service.

Previously, a company such as EnviroSat would have to make the difficult decision to either work with costly legacy providers that often rely on Cold War-era infrastructure, or purchase and maintain their own antennas — including all of the integration, licensing, transportation, and maintenance that is associated with antenna operation.

ATLAS offers satellite communications as a service so that companies like EnviroSat can quickly, safely, and more cost-effectively get their data from space — but there are further applications. Our Freedom™ Platform allows satellite operators to schedule their own passes, and our global antenna network functions as a robust support system to enable those communications.

Through Freedom™, companies like EnviroSat can integrate with ATLAS’ network and conduct all of their communications using our unique approach of satellite communications as a service. This means that along with young companies that are just beginning to send and retrieve data, ATLAS helps companies with existing communications protocols augment their capabilities to scale their growth or build out a project. Through our global antenna network, ATLAS is working to bring space closer to all of us, providing data to its client base on their terms.

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