JAMSS America plotting commercial M2M antenna for the International Space Station
Texas-based engineering firm JAMSS America is looking for strategic partners to provide commercial M2M services from the International Space Station, building on an antenna it helped install on its Columbus module last month.
The company plans to raise about US$3.5m to develop and start offering the antenna’s services in early 2018, its president Rob Carlson said on the sidelines of the SatelliteFinance conference in San Francisco.
JAMSS America, owned by Tokyo-headquartered JAMSS Corporation, has been supporting Japanese involvement in the ISS programme since being established in 1998.
Last year, the company won a grant from CASIS, an NGO set up to promote utilisation of the US portions of the ISS, to install a payload on the space station that could receive AIS signals that ships broadcast. Together with a contribution from JAMSS America’s Japanese parent, the total funding is understood to be around US$1m and is set to close in the next few weeks.
A handful of government entities, universities and companies will be able to use the service during a 12-month operational evaluation period from the end of August to refine the system.
However, JAMSS America would need to develop a new antenna without the government element to offer the services on a commercial basis.
A development team has already been identified to build this antenna, and Carlson said the venture will likely be spun off later from the rest of its business.
“We would not just make it an AIS/VHF antenna, but have it be wide-band to cover everything from VHF through to X-band,” said Carlson, who has a history in defence but has been in the space industry since 1985 while working at Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi.
The signals will be processed by a software defined receiver that can be adjusted to customer needs, and also ensure that it does not process restricted signals. The system would also use the station’s existing Ku-band downlink to avoid interference issues.
According to Carlson, it will be able to provide updates every 20-30 hours depending on where the transmitter is in the world.
Applications range from remote asset monitoring and wildlife tracking to the detection of illegal fishing.
“Using the space station enables us to prove out the technology with minimal cost,” he said.
“We don’t have to worry about having a satellite bus system, or getting it launched into space. We know we’re going to have a very stable antenna up there, so our accuracy should be extremely high. A space station also has a lot more power than a small satellite would typically have, and it’s very clean power too.”
Current intergovernmental agreements envisage operating the station until 2024, although there are a lot of ongoing discussions about extending this, with the US looking at a 2028 ‘end of life’.
In any case, Carlson said he will be looking to develop a constellation of less than 10 small satellites soon after the antenna is deployed to provide continuity and more frequent updates.
“We don't ever see us becoming a real-time 24/7 data service,” he added.
“Most users don't need this kind of frequency. If we can get it down to two-three hour updates then that would probably be adequate for most applications.”