March 1, 2024

Space startup Aalyria demonstrates satellite mesh network

WASHINGTON – Aalyria, a startup spun off from Google parent Alphabet, announced on February 12 that it has successfully demonstrated its software platform for managing a mesh network of communications satellites.

The Dec. 7 demonstration at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., was funded by the Defense Innovation Unit as part of a larger effort to create a multilayer satellite architecture from different vendors and orbits.

Aalyria, based in Livermore, California, is working under an $8.7 million contract from DIU to implement its Spacetime software in support of a hybrid space architecture.

The Defense Innovation Unit, or DIU, is a Pentagon agency that works with the private sector and identifies commercial technologies that can meet military needs. Started hybrid network project in 2022 to help meet military demand for global communications regardless of terrestrial infrastructure limitations or disruptions.

“This demonstration validated Aalyria’s ability to enable a hybrid network in space, connecting satellites in different orbits and providers,” said Chris Taylor, founder and CEO of Aalyria.

The military needs a dynamic, multi-constellation network that is not susceptible to single points of failure and that provides redundancy against threats, Taylor said. Space News. The combination of satellites in low, medium and much higher geostationary orbits, he noted, provides broader coverage and lower latency, crucial for time-sensitive intelligence and defense operations.

The rally at the NRL, Taylor said, was attended by more than 150 officials from U.S. government and defense agencies, and the European Space Agency. The mesh network included about 630 satellites from three commercial satellite operators: OneWeb, Viasat and Intelsat. They used terminals from OneWeb, Kymeta, Viasat and Comtech. Fixed and mobile land terminals were placed in four locations on two continents. “The integrity of the network was verified in real time by the NRL throughout the demonstration,” Taylor said.

Automating network operations

Although its technology comes from Google, Aalyria is an independent company with two main products. One of them is the Spacetime software platform for network orchestration and routing. The other is a laser communications terminal to transmit data from space through the atmosphere to the ground.

Spacetime automates the scheduling and tasks of satellites, ground stations and user terminals. But it doesn’t magically solve interoperability problems, like when one company’s modems on the ground can’t communicate with other companies’ satellites, or when satellites’ optical links aren’t interoperable with those of other satellites.

“The software is aware of this and doesn’t try to request things to link to things that aren’t compatible,” Taylor explained.

In the DIU hybrid space demonstration, Spacetime simulated the Starlink network, but SpaceX’s satellites couldn’t actually be connected to the network because the company doesn’t disclose where the payloads are pointing their antennas.

Military satellites like the Wideband Global Satcom or the Mobile User Objective System were not in the hybrid network demonstration, Taylor said, as the company only had 60 days to assemble it, and that was not enough time to guarantee access to MUOS and WGS.

Steve “Bucky” Butow, director of DIU’s space portfolio, was an early proponent of the hybrid space architecture project. Speaking Feb. 7 at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, Calif., he said DIU sees the project as an important government investment in space infrastructure that could help facilitate and promote commercial activity, just as the terrestrial Internet did 30 years ago. .

In addition to Aalyria, other companies that won contracts for the DIU program include Amazon Web Services, Kuiper Government Solutions, Microsoft Azure Space, SpiderOak Mission Systems, Anduril, Atlas Space Operations, and Enveil.

“We are partnering with the U.S. Space Force, the Air Force Research Laboratory and others in creating a hybrid space architecture,” Butow said. “The smartest thing the government can do is make that investment and create the infrastructure that allows companies to develop software services and integrate things across the architecture.”

“We need a hybrid architecture for national security, for resiliency, for truly multipath, low-latency communications, and perhaps eventually we can eliminate the terrestrial layer altogether,” he said.

Butow explained that DIU is trying to “stimulate the architecture and prepare all the components we need to be able to provide a new service.”

How spacetime began

Brian Barritt, Aalyria’s chief technology officer, previously worked at Google, where he helped develop Spacetime in Project Loon, an effort to beam Internet services globally using high-altitude balloons. Parent company Alphabet closed the project in 2021, creating an opportunity to develop the technology acquired by Aalyria.

Spacetime was built by a large group of Google engineers, Barritt recalled. OneWeb founder Greg Wyler was working there at the time and participated in the development of Spacetime.

“It was designed to handle many of the complexities of operating highly directional steerable beam mesh networks,” Barritt said. “We decided to see if we could build one to support space, air and ground capabilities.”

Network automation software like Spacetime benefits from adopting common industry-wide standards, he added. The U.S. government, Barritt added, has recognized the value of modular architectures based on open standards for control and networking tasks.

Spacetime can communicate with many networks across domains and frequency bands due to its modular, open systems approach, he explained. “It understands that if the fiber on the ground is slower than the space-to-ground link, it sees that and programs the network around it.”

Amid ongoing consolidation in the telecommunications industry, tools like Spacetime are becoming increasingly in demand, he added. “We see constellation mergers at different frequencies and in different bands. And investors and shareholders want to see them operate as a network.”

Aalyria from the beginning decided to support the military market, but not at the expense of the commercial market, Barritt said. In addition to the DoD, one of its main government customers is the European Space Agency. Commercial customers include satellite operators Telesat, Intelsat and Rivada Space Networks.

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