Leading space communications provider Audacy is testing infrastructure for its commercial data relay system to expand satellite communication capabilities
Formed to create an internet-style service for satellites, Audacy is poised to change the face of commercial space connectivity by creating a network for spacecraft to constantly communicate with Earth, regardless of their location.
The founding of Audacy was a long time in the making. While working as a mission operations engineer at SpaceX from 2010 to 2012, Audacy co-founder Ralph Ewig facilitated communications from the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. To do so, he leveraged NASA’s relay satellite system, Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS).
“The system was brilliant,” said Ewig. It was capable of facilitating constant communication, a step above traditional ground station systems which are dependent on the location of the satellite on orbit and its relation to the ground. However, TDRSS was not available for commercial use, sparking Ewig’s idea to streamline and commercialize a satellite data relay system that operated similarly.
Ewig knew his idea was groundbreaking and was confident in the science, but at the time he was unfamiliar with the business world. So, in 2014 he enrolled at Stanford Graduate School of Business to learn how to bring the business to life. While at Stanford he met his future co-founders Sam Avery and James Spicer, and in 2015 they formed Audacy with the intention of building a reliable network to ensure constant space communication.
Staying Connected in Space
Many of the satellites being developed by commercial entities are in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). However, current LEO communication is limited. Traditional Earth-to-space communication, and vice versa, can only occur during small 10-minute windows when a satellite is above a specific ground station. If you miss that window, you have to wait 90 minutes for the satellite to circle back around. Similar to NASA’s TDRSS, Audacy’s network will eliminate location restrictions and provide the ability for constant communication.
Audacy’s network consists of four components. There will be a constellation of three relay satellites set in a higher orbit, acting much like cell towers do on Earth. Next, there will be two ground stations in San Francisco and Singapore to communicate with the constellation. In addition, radios called “client terminals” will be placed on satellites to use Audacy’s network and communicate with the constellation and ground stations. Finally, there is software in place to pull it all together.
Once functional, Audacy’s network will provide real-time access to satellites. Communicating with satellites and gathering data from them will be as instantaneous as sending an email or image on your phone.
Putting Themselves the Customers Shoes
Spaceflight’s dedicated rideshare mission, SSO-A: SmallSat Express, will launch Audacy’s first satellite, named Audacy Zero. This satellite will mimic the client terminal component of the network to test the software and engineering of the satellite, as well as ensure it is able to communicate with the two ground stations. Ewig and his team want to guarantee the network’s reliability for potential customers.
“This is the first step to demonstrate to our customers that the solution is viable, we know what we are doing, and we are on our way to making this a commercial product,” said Ewig.
The number of potential users of Audacy’s system is vast; anyone who needs to communications from launchpad to lunar distance can benefit from the solution. The real-time and global coverage of the network will allow spacecraft to quickly connect to Earth, thus providing value across a variety of sectors.
A Common Goal
Similar to Spaceflight, Audacy’s goal is to make space more accessible by providing solutions for common problems. Ewig was an early employee at Andrews Space, which eventually evolved into Spaceflight Industries. When it came time for Audacy to choose a rideshare company for its first launch, he knew where to turn, back to Spaceflight.
Rideshare options are crucial to Audacy, as its initial client terminal satellites must be tested before the larger constellation can be launched.
“Reputation means a lot in this industry, and we knew the services offered by Spaceflight would be dependable and well-executed. It was an obvious choice for us,” said Ewig.