The Netherlands’ latest space firm — Hiber — has brought their newest design to ESA’s largest antenna test facility for testing — the Dutch space company is building an orbital constellation of CubeSats to provide global low-cost connectivity for the ‘Internet of Things,’ tracking and harnessing data from modem-linked objects such as haulage vehicles, power cables, pipelines or sensors for precision agriculture.
Evaluation of a test smallsat took place in ESA’s metal-walled Hybrid European Radio Frequency and Antenna Test Zone (Hertz) at the Agency’s technical center in the Netherlands, shut off from all external influences for radio testing. Hertz’s hybrid nature makes it unique: the facility can assess radio signals from antennas either on a local ‘near-field’ basis or as if the signal has crossed thousands of kilometres of space, allowing it to serve all kinds of satellites and antenna systems. Hiber’s initial development was supported through ESA’s Business Incubation Centre Noordwijk. The company went on to launch their first two CubeSats last year. The firm's test campaign in ESA’s Hertz chamber was organized through the Netherlands Space Office.
Connectivity is direct to the smallsats through a tiny modem and antenna linked to the tracked item. The company is called ‘Hiber’ because these terminals hibernate most of the time, turning on only when a Hiber satellite passes overhead to relay positioning and status updates.
HiberOne and HiberTwo are currently in orbit, launched in November and December of last year, but a constellation of up to 48 satellites is envisaged, depending on customer demand. As the total Hiber constellation grows, the revisit time between acquisitions will decrease.
These smallsats were manufactured for Hiber by Dutch small satellite specialist ISIS —- Innovative Solutions In Space.
Since its establishment in late 2016, Hiber has received support from various elements of ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) program, helping it grow to be awarded the title of Commercial Startup Launch of 2018 by Amazon Web Services and achieve its first satellite launch within a year of its founding.
Among Hiber’s pilot customers is Clean2Antarctica, a team of environmental campaigners using a solar powered car made from waste plastic to traverse the Antarctic.
Maarten Engelen, Hiber’s CTO, said the fact that the company is able to test the firm's satellites in a chamber such as this, just half an hour from the company base, is extremely valuable. The results from the very thorough antenna testing has helped guide the check-out of these satellites on orbit, and feeding through to Hiber's follow-on designs. These smallsats possess a one-year lifetime, so this next generation will be headed to orbit next year. The company already knows the satellite antennas work well enough to serve the firm's initial customers around the world. But this testing is looking at how all onboard antennas are operating in combination. The spiral antenna for receiving and sending modem signals needs to work well alongside the other satellite platform antennas. The company hopes to find room for optimization, things to tune and make more efficient use of the company's spectrum allocation, resulting in firmware upgrades to the firm's terminals as well as guiding Hiber's follow-on satellite designs.