Speaker Interview: Dr Siegbert Martin, CTO and Head of Development & Design, Tesat Spacecom

Prior to his involvement in the (inter)satellite communications panel at the Space Tech Expo Industry
siegbert martinconference, we caught up with Dr Siegbert Martin to get his views on the current challenges and opportunities for satellite communication systems and the benefits of optical communication technology.


 

Hi Siegbert, could you please tell us a little bit more about your career to date?

I joined Tesat Spacecom in 1986; at that time the company was known as ANT Nachrichtentechnik. I led several engineering teams involved with R&D in the fields of antenna feed systems and microwave devices for space and terrestrial applications.

From 2000 to 2007 I was with Marconi as Head of the Microwave Technology Center. Upon the acquisition of Marconi by Ericsson in 2007, I took on the position of Head of the Radio Subunit.

In 2008 I resumed my career with Tesat and took over as Director of Passive Microwave Products. Since 2017 I have held the position of CTO at Tesat Spacecom.

 

You will participate in the 'Improving and Securing (Inter)Satellite Communications: Finding a Balance Between Hardware and Software to Optimise Optical, Radio-Frequency and Ground Systems' panel at the Industry Conference on Wednesday, 20 November. What are the main challenges regarding communication systems for satellites?

The main challenge is driven by market demand. It means meeting cost targets so that satellite communication systems become a real opportunity and complement terrestrial data communication networks. Further, I am discovering a lack of awareness about space capability among network suppliers and in the public in many conversations. Satellite technology can close the gaps of data connectivity in rural areas and is part of realising the digital roadmap. Finally, with a view to satellites becoming part of the 5G network, a link between terrestrial operators and satellite network operators is essential and has to be built up.

Another topic that I am observing is related to introducing new technologies. Willingness to take risks is still too low and consequently the speed for implementation is behind market expectations.

 

One of Tesat Spacecom’s areas of expertise is optical communications. As this technology is becoming more mature, how do you see it developing and being implemented in our future satellite networks?

First, optical communication technology is already mature and has been working with high reliability since 2008; it has been in business operation since 2016.

For point-to-point high data connection, optical communication is the most efficient technology considering mass, power and cost. Due to the narrow optical beam, we have no interference with other systems. We currently see three main applications: optical inter-satellite communication in LEO or GEO constellations, optical feeder links for data up- or download, and quantum key distribution to secure data communication. Related to communication satellites, the push and speed of technology implementation are correlated to the increase in router and digital multiplexing capability in space.

 

Thanks to optical communications, contact between satellites in different orbits, or intersatellite communications, has become a lot easier. How important will links between satellites in various orbits be, and what types of applications will benefit from this?

To build up global data networks such as LEO constellations with low latency, optical communication with high data rates will be the essential technology. Direct links between satellites will reduce the latency of data transmission and will secure communication around the world, without additional ground stations. Currently, three types of applications are in focus:

  • Real-time data transmission and the opportunity to integrate it in global data networks
  • Global data distribution and providing connection to rural areas
  • Providing data connection to a moon village or to support data transmission during deep-space missions

 

In terms of industry news, what development, announcement or otherwise has stood out most to you in the past year and why?

Change has been under way for a few years on several layers. The first is the transformation from signal distribution satellites, like TV channels, to bidirectional data satellites with increased flexibility, such as active antenna and processors, started several years ago. This involves two technology innovations with regard to generating RF power, from tube to solid-state amplifiers and increased computing power of onboard processors.

The second topic is the way we are describing payload capability. More and more we are talking about data rate instead of frequency bandwidth. In addition, we are seeing effort and studies on how to link laser communication with RF communication. A main topic in this discussion is considering which OSI layer – 1, 2 or 3 – will be realised.

The upcoming LEO constellation can provide data transmission with low latency and is therefore perfectly suited for integration in terrestrial networks. On the horizon, a new field such as Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is arising and will become a key element for secure communication.     

    

If you could have one historical figure over to dinner, who would it be and why?

Volker Strassen (born in 1936), a German mathematics professor emeritus at the University of Konstanz. All our technical simulation predictions and analyses that we see at the Space Tech Conference are based on matrix multiplication. Matrices were introduced around 1857. For more than 110 years, engineers believed that the effort performing matrix multiplication is strictly following complexity O(n3), which is a result from a naïve algorithm. In 1969, Volker Strassen discovered a method for multiplying 2x2 matrices in seven multiplications instead of eight, which means effort reduction from 3 to 2.8. This result was an important breakthrough, leading to much additional research on fast matrix multiplication. Today the effort is reduced to 2.37. The insight we gain from this is that sometimes rules and processes appear to be natural laws, until someone questions them and invests in new ideas. This ought to encourage us to overcome traditional ways of working in our space engineering journey.

 

We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Industry Conference at Space Tech Expo Europe. Can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?

Connecting with people and other companies and using the opportunity for networking.


Join Siegbert on Wednesday 20 November 2019 at the 'Improving and Securing (Inter)Satellite Communications: Finding a Balance Between Hardware and Software to Optimise Optical, Radio-Frequency and Ground Systems' panel.