Australian initiative demonstrates world’s smallest known voice-enabled satellite

Adelaide-based Fleet Space Technologies has successfully demonstrated that its Centauri nanosatellites can be reprogrammed to deliver push-to-talk voice capabilities while in orbit.

The new satellite-enabled push-to-talk capabilities are part of the Defence Space Command-funded ASCEND2LEO project, which aims to develop a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications system to achieve tactical communications and data transmission where there is limited connectivity.

Led by SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, ASCEND2LEO is a research partnership between Fleet Space, the University of South Australia, the Defence Science and Technology Group, and Safety From Space.

“Enabling an entirely new voice capability for a satellite that is already in orbit is a tremendous technical accomplishment,” says Peter Kerr, Defence and National Security Coordinator at SmartSat.

“With this proof of concept, SmartSat is playing a critical role in helping the Australian industry develop [satellite communication] resiliency for Australian Defence.”

Push-to-talk (PTT) is a method of instant communication where a simple button is used to switch a device from voice transmission mode to voice reception mode – like two-way radios or walkie talkies.

However, traditional PTT devices rely on ground-based infrastructure to connect, which can limit their range. Conversely, PTT devices that connect via satellites can extend beyond the limits of tower-based infrastructure.

During a live demonstration for the Australian Defence Force Joint Capabilities Group, ASCEND2LEO successfully showed that Fleet Space’s Centauri 4 satellite could be reprogrammed via a software update to allow satellite-enabled PTT capabilities.

These PTT capabilities met strict performance criteria for one-way voice transmission, including voice quality, reliability, and link persistence across thousands of kilometres in multiple operational environments.

“Our demonstration of PTT for the ASCEND2LEO program is the latest example of Fleet Space’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of innovation to meet the rapidly evolving and complex needs of the Australian Defence Force,” says Matt Pearson, Co-Founder & Chief Exploration Officer at Fleet Space.

“By successfully delivering a software update to our Centauri satellite while in orbit, we are proud to be the developer and operator of the world’s smallest known voice-enabled satellite, creating new innovation pathways to advance new capabilities for the global space industry and beyond.”

To do this SmartSat and Safety from Space adapted the ‘Beagle’ communications waveform, which was first demonstrated in SmartSat’s Resilient Emergency and Search and Rescue Communications project to develop an enhanced emergency safety beacon.

“Custom waveforms are a critical part of enabling high-performing satellite capabilities,” says Dr Mark Rice, founder of Safety from Space.

“We’re excited to continue working with partners to help build secure and resilient satellite-based solutions in support of the ambitious objectives of the Australian private and public sectors.” 

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