Web Aims to Reach All Corners of the Earth

A truly worldwide web is in sight, with a project to produce lower cost satellites for global Internet access and a bus technology standard that is ready for space.

It is infuriating enough to be without Internet access while travelling—even worse if you are travelling with teenagers—but order and peace can be restored once the Internet connection is resumed.

Bringing Internet access to remote areas will open up communications and networking in the information age. The gateway to education and connectivity can be brought about with a constellation of satellites and space-ready embedded products.

It is important to note that CPCI-S.1 is not solely for space applications, however, its higher connector speed and data rate can be used in other areas, such as transportation and factory automation.

Reliance on the Internet for work, information, communication, and entertainment means that it is classified as a necessity, not a luxury, today. However, there are parts of the world that do not have a reliable broadband connection. This can affect schooling and access to information and communications. It has created a digital divide, says Greg Wyler, Founder and Chairman of OneWeb, the satellite production company, which is aiming to build a network of satellites to deliver web-based Internet services around the world. Presently around a third (31 percent) of the world’s population does not have access to 3G connectivity.

Figure 1: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, carrying the EchoStar 105/SES-11.

There are several factors that are helping OneWeb towards its goal of global broadband. One is financial backing from technology industry giants such as SoftBank (Japan), Qualcomm (USA), Airbus (France) and, most recently, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group (UK). The network has raised over $1.7 billion and has received approval from the FCC to launch a network of low-earth orbit satellites. It plans to launch 10 production satellites next year, and then a full launch of between 700 and 900 non-geostationary technology satellites in 2019.

This roadmap puts it ahead of SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, and other satellite constellation initiatives from Boeing (USA), ViaSat (USA) and Telesat (Canada), all of which are believed to be smaller in scale and still under review by the FCC.

SpaceX did launch the Falcon 9 rocket in October this year to deliver the EchoStar 105/SES-11 satellite commercial communications satellite to a geostationary transfer orbit— for SpaceX’s project to extend Internet service to North America, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean areas (Figure 1).

Proprietary Positioning System
OneWeb has licensed the non-geostationary satellite system spectrum, which was released by the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) 20 years ago to increase connectivity. Its patent-pending Progressive Pitch technology gradually tilts the satellite on its approach to the equator to avoid causing or receiving interference in that spectrum.

For coverage from the satellite to cell phones, tablets and laptops, the company produces user terminals for high-speed connectivity. They can operate via solar panels as well as battery packs, to make them more productive in areas where electricity is scarce or supply is unstable.

Space Upgrade
Another factor fuelling demand is the growing need for bandwidth, as increasing amounts of data continues to be handled, often in increasingly harsh conditions. This impacts performance demands on systems. As design upgrades introduce further functionality, multiple systems may be required to handle all the data. In trains or aircraft, for example, these are expected to operate in harsh environments.

The open standards body PICMG upgraded the CompactPCI standard with the CompactPCI Serial (CPCI-S) standard in 2015. This introduced high-speed serial interconnects yet maintained standard CompactPCI mechanical specifications and backward compatibility with older Input/Output (I/O) cards.

In August, the standards body ratified CompactPCI Serial Space (CPCI-S.1), with architectural, electrical, and mechanical extensions for use in space applications. It is important to note that CPCI-S.1 is not solely for space applications, however. Its higher connector speed and data rate can be used in other areas, such as transportation and factory automation.

Figure 2: CompactPCI Serial Space (CPCI-S.1) adds networking options while maintaining compatibility with CompactPCI Serial.

The specification is for mil-aero applications and keeps many of the features of CPCI-S, such as 3U and 6U size options and conduction cooling. CPCI-S, after all, is used in rugged, high-performance defense applications and is itself an updating of the CompactPCI standard, introducing high-speed serial interconnects, while still being backwards compatible with older I/O cards.

The CPCI-S.1 standard specifies the use of the the Amphenol AirMax VS connector type, rather than the 2mm pitch Hard Metric (HM) connector specified in CPCI-S. A wafer protects both the male and female sides to avoid the possibility of the backplane being struck, resulting in the pins being bent.

The high-speed AirMax VS boosts backplane interconnection with low insertion loss and crosstalk. It is flexible, using an Open Pin Field design, meaning that no ground pins are pre-assigned, providing a flexibility in the board layout design. Connector speed for CPCI-S.1 is raised to over 12.5Gbit per second per pair theoretical maximum connector speed, compared to 2.5Gbit per second per pair for CPCI-S.

Of particular interest to connector manufacturers in the PICMG ecosystem is the high sensitivity of systems in space. The environmental demands have led to the introduction of an outgassing test being used to qualify connectors for use. The harsh environment requires any material used must not leave deposits on the lenses of the satellites.

The data rate for CPCI-S.1 has also increased compared to CPCI-S, to 40Gbit per second (four TX/RX pairs x 10Gbit per second), as opposed to 622Mbit per second, single-end slot-to-slot data rates for CompactPCI Serial.

The new standard has also opened up communications protocols, beyond Ethernet. CPCI-S.1 allows dual star and full mesh network configurations for increased availability. (CPCI-S is a single star architecture.) An open management bus allows different communications protocols to be integrated. It can use the full mesh network via the backplane and the dual star architecture, or protocols that are common to space applications and specifically target networks on-board spacecraft, such as SpaceWire, or the computer-networking based Time Triggered Ethernet (TTEthernet).

Manfred Schmitz, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of MEN Mikro, was the chair of the PICMG CompactPCI Serial Space committee. He commented that it is the most logical choice for a sophisticated market, as it reuses and at the same time evolves proven industrial technologies.

For example, CPCI-S.1 is intended for use in a conduction-cooled environment, therefore the mechanical design is compatible with the CPCI-S, although the board-to-board pitch is increased to 25.4mm from 20.3mm, to allow a conduction cooling frame to be used for each board, explained Schmitz.

Typical applications may be as the payload controller onboard a satellite, but CPCI-S and CPCI-S.1 can be used wherever multi-functionality, high speeds, and high data rates are required. These can be found in space, but also closer to home. Commenting on the standard ratification, Jess Isquith, President of PICMG said: “CompactPCI Serial Space guarantees the interoperability of different boards from different suppliers, and helps re-use solutions from mission to mission.”

The ability to integrate different protocols makes it suitable for many—earth-bound—applications, such as factory automation, smart buildings, and cities which all require increasing volumes of data to be handled. Coupled with the pioneering adventurers in OneWeb, SpaceX, and many more, the race for space is just beginning, and the benefactors stand to be the whole planet.

Caroline Hayes has been a journalist covering the electronics sector for more than 20 years. She has worked on several European titles, reporting on a variety of industries, including communications, broadcast and automotive.

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