Fabien Jordan, founder and CEO of Astrocast

Fabien Jordan Inside Telecom

Astrocast builds and operates the most advanced satellites based on IoT space technology. The company’s mission is to connect the world and transform the way people live and work through a sustainable, efficient satellite IoT network.

Inside Telecom spoke with Astrocast Founder and CEO, Fabien Jordan, to find out more.

Can you talk us through the development kits that connect different devices to the satellites?

In the context of our pilot program we currently operate two types of pilot devkits. A Wi-Fi kit and a satellite kit. They both feature the same hardware, electrical and software interfaces. The Wi-Fi kit provides a low latency environment to accelerate the development of the interface between your asset and the Astrocast’s platform. It comes with an STM Nucleo board that is pre-configured to emulate an asset, giving you a reference interface to work off as well as a sample C code that can be adapted to suit your asset. Once your application is developed on the Wi-Fi kit, you can seamlessly switch to the satellite kit. It comes with a small external antenna providing everything you need to connect your asset to the Astrocast’s pilot nanosatellite network whilst enabling you to easily retrieve your sent messages via our API and online web portal. The kit supports message acknowledgements to inform your asset when your message was successfully received by our pilot nanosatellite network.

Both pilot devkits have been very successfully tested by dozens of customers all around the globe during the past year, preparing us and them for our market entry that will follow the launch of our next 5 commercial nanosatellites scheduled later this year on a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket.

The next step is the release of our full commercial devkit, called the “Astronode DevKit”, which is everything you need to fully develop your application and rapidly connect your asset to our commercial satellite network.

How will people benefit from the full launch of commercial services in 2021?

Our core product, the “Astronode S”, will be available for sales in large volumes. It is a bidirectional solder-down module for customers who want a simple serial interface connection to Astrocast network. Its small size allows for its use in embedded applications. The Astronode S has by far the lowest peak power consumption available in the market and operates in the L-Band frequency range allowing for the use of miniaturized antennas that reliably work in all weather conditions. The Astronode S has a total cost of ownership up to 3 times less than traditional satellite IoT alternatives.

What are the advantages of the Satellite DevKit and how will the technology facilitate daily activities?

The Astronode DevKit has the Astronode S architecture at its core, enabling you to quickly and securely connect your assets to the Astrocast nanosatellite network. All the hardware you need to develop and connect your asset to the Astrocast’s network is in a single box. You can set up the DevKit to communicate with our satellite network in less than 20 minutes. You have access to a complete software development environment, including access to our API and Portal.

Have you extended your services to the Middle East, Asia and Africa? Where are your future target markets?

We are a global operator and will extend our services everywhere on Earth. We are currently operating our pilot program in Europe, Africa, Middle East and Oceania.

How will your collaboration with Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) help you expand your activities in a more efficient way?

We have a key partnership with KSAT to utilize the integral flexibility of the KSATLITE ground network as a relay for our satellite network. Our two companies have been working together for more than two years on the Astrocast Network’s precursor and In-Orbit-Demonstration missions. With this partnership, we will make use of KSAT’s ground network which is optimized for large constellations of small satellites.

How does Astrocast serve a large number of applications like rail car monitoring, livestock tracking with its pilot program?

We start at small scale with a limited number of assets connected to the network and we validate the communications between the assets and the satellites directly in the field with the customer. The demand for testing has grown significantly in the recent 6 months and it is challenging for us to run all of these pilot tests in parallel in different geographies, but we have done it successfully so far and we have had excellent results.

“We track assets, monitor the environment, and save lives by building and operating the most advanced and sustainable satellite IoT network.” Can you explain this mission more? And can your technology solutions save lives?

Millions of people have no access to clean water or quality food. We are in the middle of a global pandemic and our world is warming, polluted and provides fewer renewable resources. A lot of people go to remote places and put their lives in danger without access to emergency services.

With Astrocast, companies and governments can manage assets much more efficiently, save costs, reduce CO2 output, raise productivity and standards of living for their employees and grow their economies.

We believe that bringing a low-cost and practical solution to the world can provide significant benefits across many sectors by providing businesses and governments greater efficiency, cost savings, expanded safety and well-being at sea and on land. The opportunities are endless.

You launched 80 operational satellites (more than initially planned). How will this move better serve your customers? 

We will start operating commercially in 2021 after the launch of our first 5 satellites in December. This will allow us to deliver at least one message per day per asset connected to our network. We will then be launching more satellites on a regular basis to reach a full constellation of at least 80 satellites. The launch of the first 50 satellites of the constellation are already booked. The more satellites we put in orbit, the more we reduce the latency of our service. When fully deployed, our constellation will be able to offer a low-latency communication globally.

IoT is rapidly advancing, what are the current and future IoT trends?

The increasing demand for real-time data from connected devices requires a ubiquitous coverage and uninterrupted data access from wireless connections, boosting the IoT market. New emerging technologies such as smart devices, machine learning or 5G will change how communication shapes business and will offer new possibilities for the IoT space.

As terrestrial IoT and cellular networks are limited and cover roughly 10% of the world’s surface area, there is an increasing demand for satellite IoT solutions and this represents a significant opportunity for innovative players. I can tell you that “direct-to-satellite” IoT or “sensor-to-satellite” IoT is definitely a hot topic right now and our unique solution is gaining a lot of traction.

IoT devices generate a staggering amount of data, which has raised many privacy/security concerns. Do you have a robust security protocol in place? What are the current challenges you face?

The Astrocast network is designed to handle sensitive data and security is at the core of our solution. Our system offers bidirectional​ communications enabling acknowledgments, asset commands and deployment of security patches and software updates. Over-the-Air updates are critical in this regard and we haven’t seen any of our competitors taking this essential feature very seriously. We want to lead by example in this domain, developing Unicast and Multicast capabilities, offering Multilevel AES 256-bit encryption. On top of that, we still always encourage our customers to encrypt their data to guarantee data integrity.