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How Governments Increased Reliance On Data Adds Pressure To Infrastructure On The Ground

Andrew Bond, sales and marketing director at ETL Systems, looks at the diversifying demand from governments for their satellite data transmission and how it is adding extra pressure to ground station technology.

Government Data Demands

It’s been a long time since the first government satellites were launched into space. In the 50s the Soviet Union and the US famously sent their first satellites into orbit with the US’s Vanguard 1 (its second successful satellite launch in 1958) providing the first-ever measurements of Earth’s outer atmosphere. An amazing feat still to this day, but the way governments around the globe now use satellites has completely evolved.
Government Data Demands

Fast forward to 2020 and governments and defence departments are using satellites for a number of different purposes. This has largely been driven by the demand for data, thanks to IOT and 5G, alongside the falling cost to manufacture satellites - which is down to technology becoming more readily available to governments and commercial businesses entering into this ongoing race into space.

 

When we think of defence and satellites, we immediately think of surveillance, military communications and intelligence. We think of live streams from drones deployed in far reaching parts of the world or vital communications between defence departments and armed forces on military operations.

 

But governments are now using their satellites and the data they produce to play a key role in aid, planning, development, even in combating pandemics and helping to predict where they might come from in future. With all these extra demands on satellites, it means there’s extra demand on the ground too. Reliable infrastructure has to be in place so that the RF signals being beamed back from the ever-increasing number of satellites in the sky, can be interpreted into useful data used to impact our everyday lives and our future.

 

Like with any commercial ground station, defence teleports need to be fitted with RF equipment that is reliable, with no points of failure - meaning redundancy is key. Ground station infrastructures also need to be scalable and to be able to be controlled remotely, so that governments can increase use and capacity at times of greater need. Like when providing aid, during an escalating conflict or researching into a humanitarian crisis or disaster.

 

These requirements of ground station tech are by no means new - we have witnessed this first hand through the demand for ETL products, including our RF Amplifiers, which are being installed on teleports to offset any loss in RF signal for uses including defence. But with the growing importance and reliance on data communicated through satellites - the pressure on ground stations to ensure a constant uplink and downlink connection with the sky is ever increasing. Here are a couple of examples of how governments are diversifying how they use satcoms.

TRANSPORTING AID

The year 2020 has been the biggest humanitarian effort globally in a lifetime. Governments have had to be constantly reacting and making fast decisions that affect the lives of every person, on a daily basis. Satellites have played a key role in this.



People’s demands across the world have been varied.  Many have needed medical supplies, food and water because of the impact of the virus, with some of the hardest hit nations already requiring this kind of support even before the pandemic began.
How Governments Increased Reliance On Data Adds Pressure To Infrastructure On The Ground

We’ve all seen the satellite images of parts of the UK, the US and all round the world where cities have become ghost towns. Yet data from satellites has helped governments to understand more than just the impact of lockdowns on human activity. 

 

It has helped to show where aid is needed and helped to predict where aid might be needed next. Using mapping solutions, governments have been able to guide disaster responders in areas of need to find hospitals, shops and pharmacies for supplies. They have also been able to use satellite navigation to direct responders down roads, enabling them to transport that aid to cities and towns in areas of the world where lockdown restrictions have left them almost isolated. With sat navs fitted to almost every new car and apps downloadable on every smartphone for us to get from A to B (even if that’s only a 3 minute walk), we take for granted this kind of tech and the importance it plays in times of crisis.

 

The signals carrying this data has to be constant and can’t afford to fail. That’s why RF over Fibre links, automatic gain control amplifiers and IF switch matrices, like ETLs Enigma and Vulcan are all in high demand for satcoms at any ground station used by governments.


Scientific Research

The most relevant example of how governments are using satellites for scientific research is virus plotting. Around 75 per cent[1] of viruses that are forming on earth are zoonotic, meaning they transfer from animals to humans directly or indirectly - like with the suspected origin of Covid-19. Because of the way the viruses are born, satellite technology can help government-led research plot the likely locations in the world where a virus outbreak may start.

 

This usually happens where we are changing the landscape, turning forests into land for crops or civilisation. As we continue to live closer to  the habitats of wild animals, the possibility increases that a novel virus is found - and transmitted to us directly or through our livestock. Information gathered via satellite allows governments to form plans , so that if a virus outbreak occurs, it can then minimise its impact and contain it as quickly as possible.


Reliability, resilience & security remain the focus

 

The increased demand for data has led to an increase in satellites – and the ground segment must continue to ensure that technology used in the teleports is scalable, to bear this added pressure from governments and their satcom requirements for defence, aid and research.

 

The expectations and requirements of ground station equipment as satcom demands increase for government and defence has emphasised the importance of reliability, security and redundancy; as signals cannot afford to fail.