Space-based digital infrastructure acronyms: Everything you need to know

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Space-based digital infrastructure acronyms: Everything you need to know

By Sagi Brody, Principal Consultant at 10Forward Advisors

Digital infrastructure typically refers to all of the technical underpinning required to deliver today’s modern world. Video calls, SMS messages, social media interactions, and just about anything you can do on a laptop, smart TV, or phone is touching multiple facets of digital infrastructure. This includes data centers, terrestrial fiber networks, towers, clouds, applications, and much more.

Many components of digital infrastructure already exist in space (think Starlink and ViaSat). However, we’ll soon see the entire digital infrastructure landscape deployed in orbit, on the moon, and beyond. At some point, this infrastructure will become completely Earth-independent. Compute, storage, and interconnectivity stays in space with self-healing and resilience capabilities. After all, when your “edge” workload is on Mars, why do your packets need to flow back to Ashburn Virginia for processing?

Think it’s far fetched? Numerous organizations have already declared their intention to build space-based data centers, compute capacity, cell phone towers, and network infrastructure. Others are working on “space factories” so that the components can be manufactured and assembled in space, instead of dealing with expensive launches. There is even a market segment specifically focused on extending the life of existing and future deployed space-based digital infrastructure by sending small craft to refuel them (space gas stations), and perform complex repairs remotely.

As traditional digital infrastructure starts to mesh with their newer space-based counterparts, many of the terms you’re familiar with will remain the same –  just add the words “space based” beforehand. i.e – “space based peering exchange”, “space based edge computing”,  and so on, it’s that simple! The other side of the coin will be a bit more foreign to traditional digital infrastructure leaders. You will need to understand the terminology specific to satellites, orbital planes, radio frequency communications, and more.

Want to know how to speak like a space digital infrastructure pro? Here’s a quick reference guide of acronyms that may be helpful. Please note that some of these are very new, made up by a single vendor, or theoretical only. Your mileage may vary.

AcronymStands ForDescriptionRead More
AISAutomated Identification SystemA system that uses transceivers on ships and is used by vessel traffic services (VTS). When satellites are used to receive AIS signatures, the term Satellite-AIS (S-AIS) is used
AOVAutonomous Orbital VehicleSatellites which can autonomously control their own mobility in multiple orbits and move within close proximity of other objects to perform a variety of tasks
BGANBroadband Global Area NetworkA global satellite network with telephony owned by Inmarsat using portable terminals
CoSCone of ShameSpace within 15-degrees of the center of the moon (Cislunar) where objects are extremely difficult to track due to the brightness of the Sun illuminated by the Moon's surface
COTSCommercial Off The ShelfThe use of commercially available hardware components instead of very costly custom built solutions
D2CDirect to CellStarlink's nomenclature for D2D (Direct-to-Device). Refers to space-based Cellular phone 'towers' which can communicate directly with existing mobile phones for voice, data, and SMS.
D2DDirect to DeviceConnectivity directly to smartphone
DSNDeep Space NetworkNASA's network of ground stations responsible for all communication with NASA uncrewed interplanetary space probes (ie James Web). Often oversubscribed.
DTEDirect to EarthRefers to any direct connectivity from orbit to earth
EOEarth-ObservationAny space-based application who's purpose is to observe the earth. I.e. - Weather patters, satellite images, communication monitoring.
HAPSHigh Altitude Platform StationLong endurance high altitude aircraft, typically below LEO and still within the atmosphere (ie autonomous electric aircraft)
HSAHybrid Space ArchitectureA network architecture that leverages both commercial and government space assets across diverse orbits to provide secure, assured, and low-latency data communications anywhere on and off Earth.
ISAMIn-Space Servicing, Assembly, and ManufacturingA step towards "independence" - the ability to manufacture (3D print), assemble, and repair components natively in space,%2C%20to%20coolant%2C%20to%20oxygen.
LDNLunar Data NetworkIntuitive Machines's proprietary line-of-site based communications network for Earth<->Cislunar/Moon surface. Commercial alternative to NASA's DSN.
NTNNon Terrestrial NetworksA network service delivered via non-terrestrial means, i.e. - direct-to-device cellphone service from space
OCTOptical Communication TerminalA physical terminal for transmitting & receiving optical-based signals between any 2 devices. These can be space-to-space, or space-to-earth in our context. The SDA has developed a standard protocol for OCTs. (See link)
OGSOptical Ground StationSee OGT
OGTOptical Ground TerminalsGround terminals designed to transit & receive optical signals to space & beyond
OISLOptical Intersatellite LinksOptical terminals installed on space-based platforms designed to send & receive signals between each other. Existing installs have been shown to operate successfully at 100Gbps in orbit
ORANOpen Radio Access networkAn open-vendor topology for RF related communication related to radio units (RU), Distribution Unit (DU)s, and Centralized Units (CU).,What%20Is%20Open%20RAN%20(ORAN)%3F,equipment%20provided%20by%20different%20vendors.
Orbit: GSOGeostationary orbitAn orbit which matches the speed of the earth and appears to be stationary when observed from earth.
Orbit: GTOGeostationary Transfer OrbitAn intermediate orbit that an earth launched object typically follows to get to geostationary orbit (GSO)
Orbit: HEOHigh Earth OrbitAltitude higher than 36,000km. Provides a nearly unobstructed view of the Earth and deep space
Orbit: LEOLow Earth OrbitAltitude ranging from 200–300 km to 1600 km.
Orbit: MEOMedium Earth OrbitAltitude ranging from 2000km to 36,000km.
Orbit: NGSONon Geostationary orbitA type of orbit in which the satellite is not stationary relative to the surface of the Earth. Instead, it orbits the Earth at a lower altitude than geostationary satellites and completes an orbit in a much shorter period of time.
Orbit: VLEOVery Low Earth OrbitAltitude of 400km and below
RFRadio FrequencyPrimary communication means for all space to space and space to earth infrastructure with the exception of Optical,waves%20to%20and%20from%20antennas.
RPSRadioisotope Power SystemsAlso known as an radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). A "battery" based upon nuclear decay which can power spacecraft and other space-based infrastructure for very long periods of time. They provide more power for less mass when compared to solar arrays and traditional batteries.
SARSynthetic Aperture RadarTypical technique for capturing 3D landscape images of earth from moving satellites.
SATCOMSatellite CommunicationsTypically refers to airborn to satellite communication
SBASpace Based CommunicationsTypically refers to any earth-centric communication which traverses through space
SBASSatellite-Based Augmentation SystemThe use of satellite-based GPS positioning data augmented with 3rd party sources to improve the precision and accuracy of GPS data
SCSSupplemental Coverage From SpaceThe capability for a mobile network operator to supplement ground based cellular coverage with space based D2D services.
SDASpace Development AgencyThe Department of Defense's constructive disruptor for space acquisition
SDASpace Domain AwarenessThe ability to monitor, rapidly detect, warn, characterize, attribute, and predict threats to objects in orbit.
SSASpace Situational AwarenessSee Space Domain Awareness
STMSpace Traffic ManagementThe ability to manage & mitigate potential interference to launching, orbiting, and descending space objects from other objects, radio, and optical interference
TS-SDNTemporospatial Software-Defined Networking (TS-SDN)Aalyria's definition of a system which can dynamically manage mesh connectivity that spans across traditional terrestrial fiber, terrestrial-based 5G, non-terrestrial direct-to-device 5G, multi-vendor LEO/MEO/HEO constellations, and everything in between.
UHDSUltra High Density SatelliteHughe's term to refer to a next generation satellite which supports a higher density of concurrent connections and throughput
VSATVery Small Aperture TerminalA Ka- or Ku-band two-way satellite ground station with a dish antenna that is smaller than 3.8 meters.

About the author

Sagi Brody is 10Forward Advisor’s principal consultant. With a career spanning over two decades in the tech industry, Brody has become a recognized authority in the fields of cloud, cybersecurity, interconnection, and backups & disaster-recovery.

Brody was the co-founder and chief technology & product officer of Webair, a managed hybrid cloud and disaster-recovery solution company. Brody was responsible for all product development, R&D, software development, and technical go-to-market. Additionally, Brody architected all backend infrastructure, including multi-tenant compute and storage platforms, OSS/BSS, single-point-of-truth, and accounts receivable software, a global network of data center deployments, accompanying IP transit and transport networks, and multiple layers of security protection.

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