February 26, 2024

Space startup Aalyria demonstrates a mesh satellite network

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

The December 7 demonstration at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, was funded by the Defense Innovation Unit as part of a larger effort to create a multi-tiered 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 to support 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. It initiated the 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 provides redundancy against threats, Taylor shared. Space News. The combination of satellites in low, medium and much higher geostationary orbits, he noted, provides broader coverage and lower latency, which is crucial for time-sensitive intelligence and defense operations.

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

Automation of network operations

Although the technology comes from Google, Aalyria is an independent company with two main products. One of these 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, such as 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 that and doesn’t try to ask things to connect to other things that aren’t compatible,” Taylor explains.

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

Military satellites like the Wideband Global Satcom or the Mobile User Objective System were not present in the hybrid network demo, Taylor said, because the company was given only 60 days to put it together, and that wasn’t enough time to expand access MUOS and WGS to be secured. .

Steve “Bucky” Butow, director of the space portfolio at DIU, was an early proponent of the hybrid space architecture project. Speaking Feb. 7 at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, California, he said that DIU sees the project as a major government investment in space infrastructure that could help facilitate and advance commercial activities, much like the terrestrial Internet did three decades ago did.

In addition to Aalyria, other companies that have 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 working with the US Space Force, the Air Force Research Lab and others to create a hybrid space architecture,” Butow said. “The smart thing the government can do is make that investment and create the infrastructure that allows companies to develop software services and integrate things into the architecture.”

“We need a hybrid architecture for national security, for resiliency, for true low-latency multi-path communications, and maybe eventually we can cut the ground layer completely,” he said.

Butow explained that DIU is trying to “push the architecture and get all the components ready that we need to be able to deliver a new service.”

How spacetime began

Aalyria Chief Technology Officer Brian Barritt previously worked at Google, where he helped develop Spacetime under Project Loon, an effort to broadcast Internet services worldwide using high-altitude balloons. Parent company Alphabet closed the project in 2021, creating an opportunity to roll out the technology Aalyria had acquired.

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

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

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

Spacetime can talk across domains and frequency bands with many networks because of its modular open systems approach, he explained. “It understands that if the fiber in the ground is slower than the space-to-ground connection, it sees that and plans the network around it.”

Amid ongoing consolidation in the telecom sector, tools like Spacetime are becoming increasingly sought after, he added. “We see mergers of constellations in different frequencies and in different bands. And the investors and shareholders want them to operate as one network.”

From the start, Aalyria wanted to support the military market, but not at the expense of the commercial market, Barritt said. In addition to DoD, one of the most important government customers is the European Space Agency. Commercial customers include satellite operators Telesat, Intelsat and Rivada Space Networks.

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