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Fabless semiconductor company Orca Systems is launching the first system-on-a-chip (SoC) that can directly link IoT sensors with satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO).

Companies that have IoT applications tend to rely on cellular wireless networks for connectivity, but there are vast regions on Earth where there is inadequate cellular coverage or none at all, notably at sea, but also in some terrains that really are not all that remote.

“Our device communicates directly with satellites in space,” Orca chief operating officer Brian Sprague said during a Zoom call with EE Times, adding, “the current one is communicating with a LEO satellite.”

“This is the first chip that we have developed, it’s going into production at the end of this year,” Sprague says. The SoC consists of a proprietary modem, a network processor, and an application processor, with RAM and ROM onboard.

(Source: Orca)

“So there’s literally no memory external to this device for these processors, which also makes it very secure,” Sprague notes. The IoT tracker design is finalized for this device. Customers can also plug external analog and digital sensors into the SoC.

Orca Systems developed the chip for Totum, which plans to launch a constellation of 24 Cubesat nanosatellites by the end of 2022. Totum intends to use the tiny LEO satellite swarm to track and monitor IoT assets globally from space.

Orca Systems, Totum, and space partner Loft Orbital first demonstrated a direct-to-satellite IoT connection last fall. The system can track IoT assets — from following shipping containers, monitoring oil and gas flow meters, to tracking livestock and herds — indoors and outdoors.

“It won’t tell you to within 10 feet [indoors], but it will tell you it is in the building,” Sprague says.

Totum expects to sell the sensor-to-satellite SoC for $10 or less at high volumes. Orca’s Sprague says that two AA batteries will give the SoC ten years worth of battery life.

IoT in Orbit

Orca and Totum are just the latest companies to pin their hopes on satellites that track everything from cattle to ships, from space. This is because cellular can’t be used to track ocean-going vessels, and a surprising amount of farms — and even factories — can’t get access to a strong and reliable cellular signal.

Now low earth orbiting mini-satellites are starting to provide a new way to track a myriad of assets and goods. Companies like Swarm (which was bought by SpaceX last summer), as well as established players like ORBCOMM are looking to enable IoT tracking from the stars.

2022 will be a key year for companies like Swarm and Totum as they launch their IoT-focused satellite constellations into the great beyond.

Orca Systems

Author Orca Systems

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