Satellites rely on radio frequency spectrum to communicate with each other and with ground stations on Earth, but spectrum is a finite resource prone to interference – a problem that has worsened as more and more satellites are launched into orbit.
Satellite operators are increasingly concerned that increasing numbers of spacecraft using the same part of the spectrum (called frequency bands) over the same region of Earth will cause more signal interference. To reduce this risk, operators typically coordinate with each other and enter into agreements to ensure that interference is limited. But coordinating with many different satellite operators and tracking these contracts over time is a costly, time-intensive burden.
Consider the process in the United States. Spectrum allocation falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, which approves satellite applications in a “processing round”. Once a constellation is approved in a round, the operator of that constellation has to coordinate with operators in all previous rounds and submit analyzes for each previous round to demonstrate that their satellites will not interfere.
“It’s a very difficult process,” Magnestar founder and CEO Jacqueline Good explained in a recent interview before playing in the Startup Battlegrounds competition at TechCrunch Disrupt. “Suddenly, the number of issues surrounding spectrum management in the space sector is increasing. This is the fundamental problem surrounding signal interference: multiple satellites communicating in the same frequency band in a given region potentially interfere with each other, a coordination process that is how satellite operators are.
Even once a contract is in place, operators have “no way to ensure that those contracts are being followed and minimal effort to actually monitor the output of those contracts,” she added.
The result is overworked regulators and overworked operators with modeling, simulation and tracking tools that are too difficult for the task at hand. Magnestar’s solution is a software platform called 24/7x, which performs interference simulations and runs specific calculations such as signal to noise ratio to ensure the RF environment remains clean. The technology is embedded in a “peer-to-peer” operator sandbox, so operators can communicate with each other and send data in a standardized, autonomous way.
“Once they’re in that peer-to-peer sandbox, they can coordinate directly in that sandbox,” Good explained. Magnestar’s technology can perform 10 times the simulations of existing technologies, she said.
The software also catalogs coordination agreements, which can help companies manage – and comply with – these agreements. While Magnestar’s technology doesn’t magically turn spectrum into a finite resource, Good argues that as coordination improves, companies will be able to dynamically share spectrum, which would be a game-changer for the industry.
“Operators that have a lot of spectrum and are only using 10-15% of their allocation, they will also potentially be able to share some of that spectrum or share some of that spectrum in an exchange-type market,” Good said. “That can only be accomplished if we ensure that coordination agreements are being followed and that they have clear paths of connectivity.”
Good is a first-time founder of Magnestar, which launched in December 2021. She previously served as director of data strategy and product management at Canada’s $124 billion pension fund OMERS and helped engineer and deploy enterprise data infrastructure systems for Canadian software company TIBCO. In many industries.
“I just realized very deeply that I love the place,” she said. “I knew I wanted to build a company at that point. I had built enough skills and networks to build a company and I decided to build it in the space.”
To begin with, she applied to the International Space University and received funding from the European Space Agency to study space engineering. She was also accepted into the British accelerator Entrepreneur First and was the tenth solo founder to complete the program from a portfolio of over 600 companies.
She contacted more than 25 satellite operators in the first six months of starting the company, and “everyone was referring to signal interference, coordination between their companies was an absolute hurdle, and post-coordination monitoring was a huge problem,” she said.
Magnestar currently employs five people full-time and three part-time. The startup raised a $1.1 million pre-seed round late last year and is currently in the process of raising a full seed.
Beyond fundraising, the team is busy: Magnestar is currently in the process of beta testing and plans to launch an early adopter program in February 2024 that will enable 10 operators to use the software for two to three months. From there, the company hopes to convert these operators into full licenses payable on a monthly or annual basis.
The long-term vision is to have hundreds, if not thousands, of users using the technology regularly, making 24/7x the “industry-wide standard” for intervention management, Good said.
“As we go from 8,000 satellites in space today to 100,000, this problem is only going to grow. Solving signal interference and signal collisions in real time is something that is moving as an industry that we are well positioned to address.