It’s less than a month until VSAT Global – four days of debate and discussion around the biggest issues shaping the satellite industry. With the emergence of new technologies set to be high on the agenda, we spoke with Emile de Rijk, CEO and co-founder of tech start-up Swissto12 to hear how 3D-printing is helping the company contribute towards global satellite internet access.
How does Swissto12 use 3D-printing in their manufacturing process?
Swissto12 specialises in the manufacturing of Radio-Frequency antenna components. Rather than machining mechanical components out of metallic materials like aluminium, we 3D-print them from plastic materials. We then cover with a thin layer of copper to make them functional.
3D-printing allows antenna components to be produced at a lower cost and weight. Lead time is reduced too, because traditionally pieces needed to be manufactured separately whereas we’re able to build them in one single piece.
- How does your technology address the changing needs of the satellite industry?
The satellite industry aims to deliver the best service possible to the maximum number of people at the lowest cost. The emergence of high throughput satellites suddenly makes connecting ships, aircrafts and people in remote locations possible – but the cost of ground antennas connecting to these satellites is high.
3D-printing brings down the barriers, allowing new services to reach even more people. New mega constellation projects like OneWeb and LeoSat that are working to connect people across the earth rely on these high throughput satellites – in this context our technology can reduce weight, price and ease of production for both satellite antennas and user terminal components.
- What do you think makes tech start-ups successful in the satellite industry?
A collaborative approach is important. We work with partners, whether they’re satellite manufacturers, user terminal vendors or operators to integrate their antenna concepts into our technology. We adapt to suit their needs, and as a result we produce a different product for each partner.
- There’s a surge of interest for VSAT coming from the maritime industry. How does Swissto12’s product address this?
Maritime applications are one of the four areas we’re currently developing products for, alongside satellites, ground terminal components and aeronautic antennas. Maritime is an interesting space as the prospective volumes are high, with the focus on making them as cheaply as possible while maintaining high throughput connectivity.
- What is the key priority for the satellite industry at the moment?
This is a relatively risk-averse industry, given the volumes of money at stake per launch. The emergence of constellation projects has placed a pressure on geostationary satellite platforms to be competitive. These projects need a lot of satellites to operate, meaning the cost per satellite needs to come down to be successful.
- What do you expect from speaking at VSAT Global in London in September?
The industry needs to be working together at the moment. A key issue I’m keen to discuss is how we get new technologies through qualification, especially for applications in Space. With an increasing pressure on the space industry to lower costs, we need to collaborate to change the approach to quality and requirements. It’s vital that it’s safe enough to put satellites into orbits, but the industry should also offer sufficient versatility to move towards more innovative core technologies.