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Saab, in collaboration with AAC Clyde Space and ORBCOMM, is leading a ground-breaking Swedish space project – to develop space-based communications for the maritime domain using the emerging automatic tracking standard, the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES).

The VDES package not only enables safer, more sustainable and altogether ‘greener’ shipping; it also has potential spin-off benefits for other industries. The first demonstration satellite is intended to be followed by a larger constellation of satellites forming the new component of a maritime communication infrastructure. The space-based infrastructure will expand the range of VDES from the shoreline to anywhere in the world, converting what is currently a predominantly coastal system into a global maritime system.  For the first time, all ships equipped with VDES will be able to conduct two-way communication with each other across the globe, like a secure wireless internet for shipping.

The project goal is to test and develop new technologies in preparation for a future operational VDES satellite constellation with global coverage. The VDES project is expected to begin in October 2020, with the launch of the demonstration satellite in mid-2022, followed by in-orbit demonstration and testing, which will end in the first quarter of 2023.

The project consortium consists of Saab, ORBCOMM (a provider of industrial Internet of Things (IoT) communication hardware and software) and AAC Clyde Space (a spacecraft manufacturer). The project to place a VDES nanosatellite in low earth orbit (LEO), is co-funded by the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket).

For the last 20 years, Saab has been advancing maritime traffic management technologies with products using the Automatic Identification System (AIS). Now, the next generation of AIS is taking shape within an international VDES standard, which offers up to 32 times more bandwidth than AIS. The system will transmit small data packages between satellites, ships and shore, which will facilitate maritime transport systems. Furthermore, AIS can be used as before, since the system boasts full backward compatibility. However, VDES will not only provide opportunities for positioning and communication (as AIS does), but will also serve as an enabler for e-navigation and autonomous shipping. The technology might even be applicable to other uses such as, for example, Internet of Things (IoT)-based communications between owner and cargo, both at sea and on land.

Saab recently been broadening its offer to include space-based products and solutions. The company is now taking the next step and investing in a satellite project that will expand global data communication opportunities for the maritime industry – and also potentially for other industrial IoT applications. E-navigation and other solutions based on VDES technology also have the potential to deal with the issue of growing global maritime traffic, leading to safer, more optimised traffic management, saving significant fuel and emissions.

This is a very exciting project where Saab is testing new technology in space, which we think will become the enabler of future secure communication services and applications,” commented Saab’s Chief Strategy Officer, Christian Hedelin.With the deployment of this technology, we will also contribute to a more sustainable society […] The new LEO nanosatellites are part of what is now called ‘New Space’ and this project is a good example of how industry can develop powerful and cost-efficient space-based solutions. Saab entering in to this business with its technology is a significant opportunity for all involved.”

The emergence of the VDES standard will significantly increase coverage and efficiency of maritime communications. (Images via Saab)

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