The digitalisation of maritime communications is one step closer. The SATMAR project of Alén Space and Egatel is preparing the in-orbit validation of the new VDES (VHF Data Exchange System) standard. This initiative includes the design, manufacturing, launch and operation of a nanosatellite to assess the capacity of this new technology to offer new services to the maritime industry and boost its digital transformation.
SATMAR’s goal is to test in a real scenario the viability of a complete satellite communications and services solution with the VDES standard. This innovative project, which is set to revolutionise maritime communications worldwide, is one of the initiatives selected by the Ports 4.0 capital fund, promoted by the Puertos del Estado and the Spanish Port Authorities.
In addition to the launch of a 6U small satellite, scheduled for early 2024, the project also envisages the development of on-board terminals and shore stations, a key step towards the actual deployment of VDES technology.
SATMAR aims to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new standard, which will integrate the existing AIS maritime communications system. This evolution will allow new services to be offered to improve the safety of vessels.
The advantages of VDES technology include the ability to provide two-way communication, the maintenance of connectivity even at long distances from the coast, the prevention of network saturation problems, more accurate estimation of vessel arrival times, better management of maritime alerts and encryption of transmitted information.
A pioneering project
There are currently no satellite operators that are commercially exploiting the VDES standard, so SATMAR can position itself as a cutting-edge solution for communications in the naval sector. “We want to capture this window of opportunity that we have in front of us to be part of this change and bet on VDES technology,” explains Antonio Vázquez, head of business development and co-founder of Alén Space. “With SATMAR we can position Spain and the companies that participate in this project as pioneers in the field of maritime communications,” he adds.
The incorporation of satellites to VDES technology is a disruptive leap that will allow to address the digitisation of communications at sea, since its development is key to the digital transformation of the maritime sector.
In addition, “for the implementation of the project, the Port Authority of the Bay of Algeciras and the companies Oritia & Boreas, S.L. and Hercules Control, S.L. will participate as representatives of SMEs in the maritime-port sector,” says Manuel Pozo, SVP of Sales Engineering & Consulting of Egatel. In this way, by involving these agents, “it is possible to get first-hand knowledge of the real potential of the technology for the logistics-port environment and the maritime sector in general,” adds Manuel Pozo.
The SATMAR satellite will be equipped with a high-capacity software defined radio (SDR) platform that will allow the implementation of a VDE satellite transceiver (VDE-SAT) for a VHF frequency band and a high-speed link to the ground in a single module. This technology covers all the needs of the project without additional development and will minimise the volume and mass of the satellite, thereby reducing development and launch costs, which in turn will facilitate the deployment of constellations of nanosatellites to provide VDES services.
Alén Space and Egatel had previously collaborated in the development of a VDES solution for the digitisation of naval communications in the framework of the SHIPMATE (Satellite Hybrid Information Protocol for MAritime TElecommunications) project, in which the Galician Technology and Telecommunications Centre (Gradiant) also participated. “SATMAR is a project with multiple technical challenges, which we can consider as the natural continuation of the SHIPMATE project, as we will be able to test the developed technology in orbit,” explains Antonio Vázquez.