Manufacturers of antenna hardware are enabling VSAT services on smaller offshore vessels and workboats
Smaller hardware for very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite communications have been unveiled for offshore support vessels in different sectors and regions.
These terminals provide faster connectivity and access to more applications to improve operations on vessels with limited space for 1-m diameter antennas. These open new markets for VSAT providers and terminal manufacturers.
KVH Industries introduced its TracPhone V30 antenna suitable for smaller vessels in Q1 2021. This commercial-grade 37-cm global VSAT antenna links with KVH’s Ku-band network, including a high-throughput satellite (HTS) constellation.
“Even the smallest commercial vessel can keep its business on track and crew connected with HTS connectivity,” says KVH executive vice president of mobile connectivity Mark Woodhead.
“It is designed to deliver operational needs and to enable crew access to web browsing and chat, email and calls wherever the vessel operates,” he explains.
TracPhone V30 has a single coaxial cable for gigabit Ethernet and power, a big advantage for retrofitting vessels, and has a weight of 10.6 kg. It incorporates the transceiver, reflector dish and the modem within the radome, reducing the below-deck unit requirement.
It can deliver data speeds of 6 Mbps on the downlink and 2 Mbps on the uplink, via KVH’s layered mini-VSAT Broadband HTS network.
TracPhone V30 features cyber security, tools for controlling data usage, built-in data shaping and user-managed, application category control.
KVH’s network is based mainly on Intelsat’s fleet of wide-beam and spot-beam Ku-band satellites with support from other owners.
In April, Intelsat introduced its FlexMaritime service for 45-cm terminals on OSVs and workboats after months of testing.
So far, KNS and Intellian have qualified their smaller antenna for the Intelsat Flex45 network. These 45-cm antennas have been tested by launch partners Seasat and World-Link Communications, with modems manufactured by ST Engineering iDirect.
Flex45 provides bandwidth of 6 Mbps on the downlink and 2 Mbps on the uplink through these terminals.
Sea trials were conducted earlier this year on board emergency response and rescue vessel Esvagt Innovator in the North Sea, with Seasat deploying a KNS SuperTrack C4 antenna using the Flex45 service.
“We conducted extensive testing and sea trials, with the service consistently meeting or exceeding our performance expectations,” said Seasat co-founder and chief executive Kim Martinsen. “During testing, our crew stayed connected during some very harsh sea conditions,” he said.
South Korean manufacturer KNS confirmed its SuperTrack C4 antenna provided connectivity of up to 6 Mbps data speeds during these sea trials in harsh sea conditions.
KNS has also secured approval for its Z5MK4-Ka VSAT for use over Telenor Satellite’s Thor 7 HTS and Anker maritime service. This is a 60-cm antenna to link with an iDirect Velocity modem for bandwidth of 20 Mbps on the uplink and 3 Mbps on a downlink.
Telenor, Intelsat and Northrop Grumman made a space technology breakthrough in April after docking a life-extension module to an existing satellite. Northrop’s mission-extension vehicle, MEV-2, docked with Intelsat/Telenor’s jointly owned satellite IS/Thor 10-02 to extend its lifetime for another five years. This satellite provides communications to shipping, offshore and other maritime sectors in the North Atlantic, Europe, Middle East and Africa regions.
Telenor chief executive Morten Tengs said: “As a result of this historic mission, we will continue to serve our maritime and offshore customers with the critical connectivity solutions they depend on.” MEV-2 provides a lifeline for these services, as onboard propellant on IS/Thor 10-02 was due to run out towards the end of 2021. It is the second of these mission-extension projects, after MEV-1 connected with Intelsat’s IS-901 in February 2020.
Intellian’s v45C antenna and Intelsat HTS provide high throughput, as previously available in a 60-cm v60E or larger diameter antenna, says Intellian vice president and general manager for global partnerships and EMEA business development Jon Harrison.
“These compact v45C and v60E antennas use elements of our flagship NX series VSAT antenna designs and share many of the same features,” he tells OSJ, “notably radio frequency (RF) performance, single-cable, dome-on connection and our intuitive AptusNX management and commissioning software.”
Its VSATs connect with geostationary orbit satellites in Ku-band and Ka-band. Mr Harrison expects more opportunities will come in OSV connectivity from implementation of low Earth orbit (LEO) and medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellite constellations.
Intellian has developed dual-band and tri-band hardware for connecting with MEO, such as O3b satellites operated by SES. The existing generation can also operate with the LEO constellations being implemented by OneWeb and others.
“Many of our antennas are multi-orbit, allowing them to take advantage of upcoming MEO and LEO VSAT networks as well as the existing geostationary provision,” says Mr Harrison. “Our dual- and tri-band antennas extend this flexibility even further, allowing a single antenna compatibility with multiple networks. This can be of vital importance in maintaining connectivity by providing redundancy across multiple satellite networks.”
Intellian has a US$73M contract to develop and supply compact user terminals for OneWeb’s satellite communications. Through this agreement, Intellian will mass produce terminals for uplink and downlink communications with OneWeb’s LEO satellite network.
These will offer high bandwidth, low latency connectivity over this new generation of satellites. The first of these terminals could be unveiled later this year, ready for commercial installations in 2022.
OneWeb head of maritime Carole Plessy says the satellite constellation will be ready for commercial testing in offshore environments in northern latitudes in Q4 2021.
It has 182 LEO satellites in orbit, after launching the latest 36 units on 26 April, and plans two more launches in the next two months. “Our connectivity should reach all regions north of 50° latitude by June 2021,” Ms Plessy tells OSJ.
Its services will cover the UK, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, Canada and the Arctic seas. “Once we have 220 satellites over the poles, we will have enough for 24/7 coverage,” she explains.
Its first trials will involve fixed terminals, two per installation, for satellite tracking, communications and seamless switching. “We are looking to deploy equipment in October for commercial trials,” she says. OneWeb plans to offer full maritime services by the end of 2022.
UK-based AST will start trials in October in the North Sea and will then offer OneWeb to commercial shipping, fishing and offshore support sectors.
“By partnering with AST, we are another step closer to making LEO connectivity available to more marine and offshore customers,” says Ms Plessy.
AST founder and chairman Gregory Darling says there was alignment between OneWeb LEO and AST’s network services. “By becoming a distribution partner, we can offer customers a fibre-like alternative to current solutions,” he says.
“OneWeb aligned with AST’s Integra network services, will enable faster and better communications for the offshore industry," he says.
Also on the way is a new constellation of geostationary satellites in Ka-band. Viasat created the ViaSat-2 network and partnered with Cobham Satcom to provide terminals for bandwidth of more than 25 Mbps, with unlimited data. ViaSat-2 has coverage along US coastlines, within the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Coming in 2022 will be ViaSat-3, a three-satellite global constellation for high-speed broadband on vessels using these terminals. In April 2021, Viasat acquired service provider RigNet in an all-stock transaction, valued at around US$222M.
Also in April, Marlink completed its acquisition of ITC Global from Panasonic to expand its position-providing satellite communications to the offshore sector. This purchase was backed by Marlink’s private equity owners Apax Partners, as part of its mergers and acquisitions strategy.
ITC Global has further extended Marlink’s global footprint with its strong presence in the US, the UK and Australia.
“ITC Global is an important cornerstone of the Marlink Group and it is an essential part of the business as we expand our global leadership position in the energy sector,” said Marlink chief executive Erik Ceuppens.
Following this acquisition, Marlink said it would “continue its selective mergers and acquisitions strategy to further develop and expand its growth potential” with the support of its investors.
Inmarsat invests in Ka-band satellite network
Inmarsat is in the middle of its Global Xpress (GX) network expansion campaign. It plans to commission two Inmarsat-6 satellites to significantly enhance Ka-band (GX) and L-band (Fleetbroadband) capacities.
The first of these Airbus Defence & Space-built satellites (GX6A) is due to be launched by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries later in 2021. GX6B is scheduled to be launched by SpaceX in 2022. These will be the most powerful and flexible mobile communications satellites ever developed by Inmarsat.
Inmarsat’s GX network includes four other geostationary satellites built by Boeing and GX5, built by ThalesAleniaSpace, all delivering Ka-band connectivity worldwide.
In 2022, two satellites operated by Space Norway Heosat with GX payloads will be launched. GX10A and 10B will be placed into highly elliptical orbits for continuous coverage above latitude 65° North for shipping. These Northrop-built payloads will expand Inmarsat’s broadband into the Arctic.
In 2023, Inmarsat expects the launch of three more Airbus Defence & Space-built satellites – GX7, GX8 and GX9 – its first software-defined constellation for global mobile connectivity.