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Aalyria, a Space Internet Startup With Nearly a Decade’s Worth of Intellectual Property From Alphabet

Aalyria Spacetime dynamically manages terrestrial and satellite traffic.

Has Aalyria’s optical transmission technology eliminated the space-Earth communication bottleneck?

Loon balloons floated at an altitude of 18-25 km, above birds and the weather. They navigated by moving up or down to catch wind currents moving in different directions.

Aalyria, a new space Internet company, just burst out of stealth mode. It is based on work done on Alphabet’s “moonshot” Project Loon and Alphabet transferred almost a decade’s worth of technology IP, patents, office space, and other assets to Aalyria in return for an equity stake in the company. Spacetime is Aalyria’s intelligent network orchestration technology, and Tightbeam is its advanced atmospheric laser communications technology.

Spacetime

Spacetime is a multi-layer, multi-orbit, software-defined networking system that was developed for Project Loon, one of Google’s early efforts at connecting rural areas and developing nations. At one time, Telesat had agreed to use the Google networking system to link their low-Earth orbit and geostationary satellites, but Telesat has not yet launched its LEO constellation.

With the demise of Project Loon, the network management software was orphaned, but development continued, and Aalyria says it now “optimizes and continually evolves the antenna link scheduling, network traffic routing, and spectrum resources—responding in real-time to changing network requirements.” That sounds like a tall order with constantly moving satellites, planes, ships, and vehicles, but the foundation was laid with drifting balloons.

This is an impressive claim, but it is not unique. Others are working on multi-orbit broadband networks and OneWeb recently signed an agreement for seamless interoperability between their low-Earth orbit satellites, Intelsat geosynchronous satellites, and airplanes.

Tightbeam

Tightbeam, Atmospheric laser communications (Source: Aalyria)

Tightbeam is a different story—optical links are beginning to be used between satellites in space, but as far as I know, no one is currently transmitting production volume optical data between satellites and Earth. Optical communication is winning out over radio frequency links in space because they are faster, more secure, and harder to jam than radio frequency, and the terminals have lower mass and consume less power. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, rain, clouds, dust, or heat distort and attenuate optical signals.

One can imagine building ground stations in places with dry climates and routing around bad weather when it occurs, but Aalyria says they have developed novel hardware and algorithms that correct for these distortions enabling them to transmit data through the atmosphere at speeds up to 1.6 terabits per second over hundreds of miles.

Recently capacity limitations have slowed Space Starlink, triggering a shift to affordability-based pricing, and performance has continued to decline since that time. Over-subscription in a local area or cell contributes to that decline, but, as Mike Puchol points out, scarcity of radio frequency spectrum for traffic between satellites and terrestrial gateways is also a constraint. Gateway congestion is already a problem, and Starlink and others are planning to launch many more satellites. Puchol predicts that we will have optical links between satellites and gateways and speculates that they may use ultraviolet frequencies. The Chinese are also working on optical communication and they have conducted satellite-ground high-speed laser tests.

Regardless of who does it first, we will eventually see optical links between satellites and the ground. I’ve not seen any description of Tightbeam technology or results of tests and demonstrations, but if Aalyria’s technology lives up to its description, it is important.

Miscellaneous

A few miscellaneous points:

  • I don’t know where the name Aalyria comes from. I Googled it and only got references to the company itself. (There were tons of hits—the company is hot).
  • I wonder if they plan to operate their own constellation or license the technology. I suspect that the prospective broadband licensees already have their own “Spacetime” but not their own “Tightbeam.” At some point, Aalyria (or Amazon, Microsoft, or Google) will roll out optical ground stations.
  • My guess is that Tightbeam was developed by Alphabet project Taara which had been working on optical communication for Loon and other applications.
  • I tried for a couple of days to get more information on Tightbeam and its performance. Technical papers, experimental results, patents, etc. but email to Aalyria.com bounces.
  • Finally, I notice that the Board of Advisors has eleven members, four of which have prior Defense Department experience. That may have helped Aalyria secure an initial $8m contract with the Defense Innovation Unit. Another member is Vint Cerf, co-designer of TCP/IP, a Google VP, and, most relevant in this context, a long-time proponent of interplanetary networking. Only one employee is listed as an optics engineer, but Board member Dr. Donald A. Cox III is an optical communications expert.

Update Oct 8, 2022:

Tim Deaver, VP of Strategic Solutions at Mynaric says they are working on space-ground, air-ground, and ground-ground terminals. Will they be able to write terminal drivers and have them work in a Spacetime network?

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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