Enabling Global Connectivity: Scaling the Production of Low Earth Orbit Satellites

  • Celestica  |
  • 2023-11-15
Low Earth Orbit Satellite

The mission of global connectivity is to connect people worldwide and revolutionize internet access and communication services. Its impact is far-reaching, driving economic growth, enriching education, fostering social connections, improving healthcare access, enhancing global security, facilitating efficient disaster response, and promoting empowerment and inclusivity. 

Mega-constellations — large networks of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites play a crucial role in enabling global connectivity.

Mega-constellations consist of hundreds or even thousands of LEO satellites working together to move information at the speed of light. They enable reliable, high-speed, and comparatively affordable internet access across the globe to bridge the digital divide.

Mega-constellations offer several advantages. First, they provide enhanced bandwidth by utilizing multiple high-capacity satellites, enabling faster and more efficient data transmission.  These constellations, particularly those in low Earth orbit, also offer lower latency compared to traditional geostationary satellites. These are key factors when it comes to faster streaming capability especially in real-time applications like video conferencing and gaming. In terms of flexible scalability, mega-constellations are able to expand coverage and capacity to meet growing connectivity demands effortlessly. This allows the network to adapt to evolving technology and user requirements. Lastly, the distributed nature of these constellations enhances redundancy and resilience. If one satellite fails or experiences issues, others can compensate, ensuring uninterrupted connectivity and increasing the overall robustness of the network.

LEO satellites are also driving flexible and reliable aircraft connectivity.

For years, the aviation industry has leveraged Geostationary Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites to provide in-flight connectivity solutions. With the addition of LEO networks, passengers can rely on an ‘at-home’ experience on their personal devices and take full advantage of evolving in-flight entertainment systems. Combined with small electronically steered array (ESA) antennas, LEOs also provide an effective solution for business jet passengers - enabling increased bandwidth and lower latency for company VPNs and video conferencing.

The enhanced capacity combined with lower costs, and broader coverage has led to a growing demand for LEO-based solutions in aircraft connectivity. In application, LEOs improve the passenger experience, support flight operations, and enable better collaboration between aircraft and ground control.  

Cost-effectiveness, high performance and high reliability are key to successful LEO satellite deployment. 

Market research reports estimated the global LEO Satellite market size to be valued at approximately USD 4.2 billion in 2022, with expected growth to almost USD 7 billion by 2031. This trajectory exhibits a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18% during the forecast period.[1]

LEOs are more cost effective to manufacture than the traditional GEO satellites. They are typically smaller and because of their less demanding mission requirements, don’t require the same level of radiation hardening as a GEO satellite. This reduced radiation exposure creates the opportunity for increased use of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTs) parts, and consequently reduced development and testing time. Also, increased modular designs allow for the use of automation technology in the manufacturing of LEOs -- benefiting both cost and time-to-market. 

Reliable performance is another key aspect when it comes to the satellite systems. Consumers are relying on them for consistent communication and navigation, while governments and nations need reliable security and access to real-time information. Satellite systems that fail or don’t perform to expectations can severely impact a satellite company’s brand and value.

The proliferation of LEOs is also driving an increase in the demand for ground terminals that process the information. But with significant growth, manufacturers of these satellites and ground systems continue to face various manufacturing and supply chain challenges when it comes to building cost efficient, high performance, high reliability satellite systems.

There is increasing urgency to overcome these challenges as the need to deliver LEO satellites at scale grows. 

These challenges include:

  • Agile Product Development: With extended product development cycles, LEO satellite manufacturers must incorporate new technologies and innovations quickly to keep up with this fast-paced industry. Efficient design processes and the ability to adapt designs for future iterations are required.
  • Supply Chain Resilience: The global nature of the satellite industry necessitates robust supply chain management to identify qualified suppliers, address potential disruptions, manage dependencies, and ensure continuity of component availability.
  • Cost, Quality and Scalability: With their closer proximity to earth than GEOs, LEO satellites often leverage reliable COTS components to reduce costs. This is a significant benefit when producing mass volumes but these components still need to be rugged enough to operate reliably in harsh space environments. As LEO satellites are produced in large numbers for mega-constellations, manufacturers must scale up production capabilities efficiently, leveraging automation solutions while maintaining consistent quality control.

A Design-for-Supply Chain (DfSC) approach is critical to ensuring rapid time-to-market for satellite manufacturers.

A leader in ruggedization and reliability for harsh environments with a certified global supply base for specialized components – from COTS to Rad Hard, Celestica supports many customers in the connectivity ecosystem, including LEO satellite and ground terminal manufacturers, and is well positioned to support the growth in demand for this market.

 A DfSC mindset emphasizes the integration of supply chain considerations and collaboration into the product design process. It involves considering and optimizing the entire supply chain strategy from the early stages of product design to ensure efficient and effective manufacturing, sourcing, logistics, and overall supply chain management. It enables a level of agility that avoids costly disruptions by planning for alternate sources of parts as well as timely submission and approval from regulatory bodies. It can even extend product lifespan by ensuring the continuity of qualified components.

Celestica’s DfSC approach is helping customers:

  • Achieve Lower Overall Total Cost: Integrating the supply chain into the design phase allows manufacturers to identify cost-saving opportunities across sourcing, materials, and production without compromising quality or performance. This includes reducing the risk of product redesign and costly last-time buys that may occur as a result of component obsolescence issues. Leveraging automation solutions when it comes to mass production also reduces cost and increases throughput.
  • Get to Market Faster: By involving the supply chain early in the design process, manufacturers can leverage supply chain insights and expertise to optimize the design for manufacturability. Considering factors such as component availability, manufacturing processes, and assembly requirements, the design can be optimized to streamline production, reduce costs, and improve overall manufacturing efficiency.
  • Avoid Sole Sourcing to Reduce Disruption: With the influx and rapid race for LEO platforms, sourcing the right parts will continue to cause a surge that will strain the supply chain. It is of the utmost importance that companies understand how they design in and source their component suppliers can affect the entire product lifecycle. Sole sourcing a component can lead to a heightened level of risk to the supply chain. As companies build the bill of material they require dedicated supply chain risk management, with tools, processes and resource alignment. By considering alternative sourcing options, dual sourcing strategies, and supply chain contingencies, manufacturers can enhance supply chain resilience and reduce the impact of potential disruptions.
  • Optimize Production Planning and Inventory Management: Designing with the supply chain in mind facilitates improved production planning and demand forecasting. Manufacturers can align production schedules with component availability, optimize inventory levels, and reduce excess or obsolete inventory. This leads to better cost control, reduced waste, and improved overall supply chain efficiency.
  • Mitigate Risk with Predictive Analytics: Measuring the resilience of a supply chain and the sub-supply nodes that reside within it allows designers to identify potential failure points in the supply chain. Predictive analytics begins by asking the right questions to help itemize the possible elements of risk. Once these elements are understood, risk becomes quantifiable and predictable. Informed tactics can be developed to address these risks and maintain business continuity. 

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    **For illustrative purposes only.
  • Meet Security Compliance: Cybersecurity is a significant industry concern and satellite companies want a partner like Celestica that understands how to qualify suppliers that have the right level of experience and infrastructure to mitigate this risk. 
The mission of global connectivity, powered by mega-constellations, is crucial due to its profound impact on various aspects of our lives, from economic growth to global security, enhancing education, fostering social connections, improving healthcare access, enabling efficient disaster response, and promoting empowerment and inclusion.

Celestica’s DfSC approach can enable manufacturers of LEO satellites to strengthen supply chain resilience, enhance product quality, and achieve greater operational efficiency.

[1] https://www.businessresearchinsights.com/market-reports/leo-satellite-market-100025