Rocket Lab will launch 25 satellites in 2023 to enable Kinéis to capture transmissions from small satellite sensors where ground-based IoT technology cannot always reach, in order to track wildlife, fishing boats and shipping containers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) satellite constellations is on the rise. The latest plan to extend the IoT connection beyond standard terrestrial systems includes a series of launches scheduled to begin during the second quarter of 2023. Rocket Lab plans to launch 25 Kinéis satellites in New Zealand between April and December. The goal is for these small, low-orbit satellites to provide real-time geospatial intelligence and global monitoring services.

Kinéis provides satellite-based IoT connections. The company was created in 2019 by the French space agency Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and technology firm IoT Collecte Localization Satellites (CLS), says Alexandre Tisserant, CEO of Kinéis. Among its activities over the past two years, Kinéis has operated the Argos System, a collaboration involving CNES, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the European Meteorological Satellite Utilization Organization (EUMETSAT) and the Indian Space Research. Organization (ISRO). Satellites are being used to gather information about climate and the environment, as well as to monitor wildlife and fisheries.

Kinéis aims to provide affordable IoT connections where traditional technologies, such as mobile, LoRa and Wi-Fi, cannot be accessed. Currently, only 15 to 20 percent of the world has such an IoT terrestrial connection, Tisserant says, and that opens up an opportunity for satellites. In the past, satellite technologies have been significantly more expensive than alternative solutions, he explains, but Kinéis is trying to reduce that cost with its low-orbit satellites and transmitting sensors. To date, its technology is being used to track animals in remote areas as well as fishing boats, and it can monitor containers at sea, smart farming and connectivity and services in remote areas.

Currently, Kinéis has eight satellites in orbit. The units, which weigh 30 kilograms (66 pounds), fly in low Earth orbit at a distance of 650 kilometers (404 miles). With these eight satellites orbiting the planet, the connection is usually available for 15 minutes, followed by a waiting period of several hours before the next satellite arrives within range. This connection rate is sufficient for those with a fixed infrastructure, or for monitoring animal movements. However, for use cases such as combating illegal fishing operations, IoT systems require more regular data capture.

Alexandre Tisserant

With 25 nanosatellites in space, says Tisserant, what was originally an hour or two of waiting for a signal will be reduced to just ten minutes. To enable the deployment of IoT, the company is building both satellites and units in sensor devices that communicate with those satellites. These small devices are designed to send relatively small packets of data, he notes, and they require low-cost power supplies. Offering both satellites and sensor units, Tisserant reports, “We are democratizing the connection.”

Kinéis and Rocket Lab have agreed on a set date period from April to December 2023 to launch satellites. Each has the size of a large shoe box and all will be launched from New Zealand. The company chose Rocket Lab, says Tisserant, because “They are the most reliable microsatellite emitter.” Kinéis sensor units send information packets for localization, but they can also transmit data on pressure, temperature and humidity. In one application, devices transmit such sensor information from ocean rafts. The data is captured on Kinéis server, which can provide a basic location, such as a point on the map, as the company collaborates with software providers to obtain more detailed information.

The technology is more expensive than standard ground-based IoT solutions by a factor of three, says Tisserant. However, the price is expected to fall as more sensors are installed. The relatively large bandwidth in which the transmissions are transmitted means that the density of the sensors can be high, he explains. “So that capacity will increase,” Tisserant says, and the price is expected to fall with that increase. “We are targeting millions of devices” that will connect to the system. Some of the earliest applications have focused on wildlife tracking, for example. Kinéis makes a unit that weighs only 3.5 grams (0.1 ounces), which can be built into the collar of a small animal like a bird.

The IoT satellite system could be deployed to add to existing IoT solutions, Tisserant reports. For example, a company that is already using LoRa technology to track containers may choose to add satellite-based data when those containers were at sea. The technology is also being used by governments that are tracking industrial fishing boats to save protected marine life. The data collected by Kinéis units on boats can help users find fishermen and ensure that specific areas are not being overfished. Sensor units can include a GPS device or use Doppler satellite tracking. The latter option, he notes, is lower in power and thus requires a smaller battery and less frequent recharging.

A program led by Kinéis, the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Microsoft and several universities are using satellites to protect indigenous lands from destruction by grazing animals. Herds of wild cattle and buffaloes are causing damage in parts of Australia that are of great importance to indigenous peoples, both culturally and otherwise. Animals, in some cases, are erasing rock art, violating important waterways and damaging sacred ceremonial areas.

Therefore, organizations started the program, known as SpaceCows. One thousand cows and buffaloes each carry a satellite unit that transmits data to Kinéis satellites, and the data collected is used to create a virtual landscape that can predict herd movements. For example, hot or dry weather can cause cattle to migrate to waterways. Microsoft’s Azure artificial intelligence technology creates a digital twin landscape that helps predict such movements. “Wherever you do not have ground networks,” Tisserant explains, “this can be useful.” Many other uses are also being considered, such as capturing data from water meters in the basements of private homes.

Kinéis has been contacted by several water meter companies that have problems collecting data where a cellular connection is not good. They are installing low frequency RF antennas indoors to send data to an input. However, says Tisserant, the gateway requires a connection to transmit data back to a server. In areas where there is no 2G or 3G connection available, he says, “They want to use the satellite system. This is an interesting feature that big companies are interested in.” Approximately 15 companies are currently testing the system with eight satellites. The most recent launch was in December 2019, Tisserant says, so 25 more in 2023 “a large scale”.