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Fleet Space reveals Alpha 3D-printed satellite family

Fleet Space Technologies co-founders Flavia Tata Nardini and Matt Pearson with a full-scale mock-up of the new Alpha satellite – the 64-element antenna array is in the middle, between the two solar panel arrays. Image: Fleet Space Technologies

Adelaide-based startup Fleet Space Technologies has revealed the design of a new constellation of small Internet of Things (IoT) satellites with a 64-element steerable beam antenna. The first of this new Alpha satellite constellation should be ready for launch in 12 months, according to co-founder Flavia Tata Nardini, and the new satellites will operate alongside the company’s existing in-orbit Centauri cubesat constellation.

The Alpha constellation represents a fundamental shift for Fleet Space which delivers the Nebula IoT service using its constellation of Centauri-series satellites and a proprietary Portal. A recent US$26.4 million Series B investment has enabled the company to create the Alpha, the world’s first entirely 3D-printed satellite, which will integrate Fleet’s advanced beamforming technology and patented antennas.

Fleet Space has unique expertise in digital beamforming for Low Power Wide Area networks and has designed a world-first metal 3D-printed patch antenna for small satellites. This increases signal throughput per kilo of spacecraft weight by a factor of 10. The first of these antennas, a four-element unit, went into orbit in June 2021 aboard Centauri-4 which proved the company’s approach and the robustness of the technology for much wider use.

The Alpha satellites will have a 64-element antenna compared to the Centauri-4, representing a 16-fold increase in performance while being only four times heavier.

“Alpha represents a major step forward and the first time a satellite has been created entirely through 3D-printing,” said Ms Nardini. “By bringing together the creation, deployment and service of space technology this is a clear statement of our intent to become a global leader in space technology, and to support Australia’s ambition to lead this critical field.

“It is Fleet Space’s vision that everyone, everywhere, has access to unlimited connectivity, no matter where they are on the globe, in cities, remote regions, on land or navigating the oceans,” she added. “Our recent Series B investment empowered us to realise this vision by embarking on a bold new strategy.”

Leveraging experience and lessons from its successful Centauri constellation, Fleet Space will be able to expand its coverage reach and provide down to sub-seconds latency, providing an extremely cost-effective means to unlock unprecedented connectivity more quickly and in more locations, however remote.

The existing Centauri constellation is among the world’s most advanced space communications systems. Like Alpha, Fleet Space’s latest Centauri 4 small satellite, developed in collaboration with US firm Tyvak, has been integrated with Fleet Space’s breakthrough smallsat digital beamforming technology. This uses an array of multiple 3D printed all-metal antennas along with cutting edge Digital Signal Processing.

This beamforming technology provides a substantial increase in throughput of customer IoT data and can service a higher number of customer terminals at once. It does this by generating a high number of highly-directional low-interfering beams in point-to-point satellite communications. This achieves a high spectral efficiency which improves quality of service through enhanced frequency re-use, faster data rates and more link robustness. Integrating this digital beamforming into a Low Earth Orbit Satellite, not much larger than a half a square metre, is a world first.

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