SES, Intelsat and Eutelsat lead the way in high throughput satellite investment for Ku-band and Ka-band VSAT
Owners of geostationary and medium-Earth orbit (MEO) constellations are investing in higher-power satellites to increase Ku-band and Ka-band capabilities and renew C-band capacity. Much of this capacity will be available for maritime VSAT users, but they will have to compete with other mobility markets including aviation.
SES is investing around US$1.3Bn in a new constellation of MEO satellites and a high throughput satellite (HTS). Of this, around US$300M is for SES-17, a new HTS for maritime mobility and cruise ship connectivity in the Caribbean, Atlantic and the Americas.
SES vice president for maritime Greg Martin says SES-17 is scheduled to be launched in 2021. This will be followed by the O3b mPower MEO constellation in H2 2021 and 2022.
O3b mPower is due to be set into orbit on two Space X Falcon vehicles from Florida, US. “This constellation will have seven satellites on two launchers,” says Mr Martin. “It can be expanded as it is a scalable system.”
These satellites will augment Ka-band capacity provided to maritime and cruise ships from the existing O3b constellation, providing coverage from the Equator and latitudes of +/- 50° latitude. “This offers coverage in the main cruise markets of the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Asia-Pacific,” says Mr Martin. “It can go higher, such as reaching the UK south coast and Germany’s shipyards, and SES-17 will extend this coverage further.”
SES will control the coverage from O3b mPower as the satellites’ beams will be software-defined and dynamically configurable. “O3b mPower has adaptive resource control,” Mr Martin continues, “so we can synchronise and configure dynamically elements to tie back to cruise ships’ guest experiences.”
For example, a beam could be dedicated to a cruise ship around one specified area, perhaps in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or in the South China Sea. Or it could be deployed to meet the broadband requirements of a naval fleet.
“With O3b mPower, we will be able to scale up and down – to deliver 2 Gbps connectivity to ships,” says Mr Martin.
To put this into context, many modern cruise ships have connectivity of 200-500 Mbps and merchant ships perhaps 10 Mbps if they have high-grade VSAT on board. Some of the world’s largest cruise ships could have up to 1 Gbps up and down from the satellite. “By mid-2022, there will be ships passing 2 Gbps,” says Mr Martin.
“Guests want similar services as they get on land,” he adds. “The market trend is towards supporting the new generation of passengers that have grown up with everything on the cloud and applications on their devices.”
Cruise ship owners such as Carnival Corp and MSC Cruises use SES connectivity to provide passengers with internet services, access to social media, content streaming and video messaging.
“2 Gbps will be reasonable in the next few years guaranteed for cloud applications,” says Mr Martin. “Guests and ships operators want this connectivity. Guests will use cloud services to store their images and applications, etc. They will synchronise these with their devices – we want to help manage all of that.”
Mr Martin does not expect these levels of connectivity will be met through just using geostationary satellites, but with satellites in multiple orbits and on board multi-band antennas. “We can support higher than 2 Gbps even with the antennas out there,” he says.
Intelsat intends to invest around US$800M in the next three years and probably another US$300M each year afterwards on new HTSs for its Epic constellation. This includes a rapid replacement for a recent satellite failure and for its second-generation constellation.
Its Epic constellation started providing spot beams of high intensity Ku-band in 2016 when Intelsat-29e was commissioned, followed by five other satellites. The latest was Horizons 3e (H3e), which is co-shared with Sky Perfect JSAT, providing coverage over Asia/Pacific.
After this, widebeam satellite Intelsat 39 entered service, replacing Intelsat 902 in October 2019 to provide maritime mobility services over Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions.
Last year, Intelsat encountered a catastrophic fuel leak on Intelsat 29e and lost this capacity. The lost capacity has been covered by the Hispasat-143W widebeam satellite and from leased capacity from competitors.
In 2022, Intelsat expects to restart its own HTS coverage over the Americas from the Intelsat 40e satellite. Maxar Technologies is manufacturing this satellite.
“When it is launched, Intelsat 40e will be the newest addition to our next-generation Intelsat Epic platform,” says Intelsat chief executive Stephen Spengler. “We continue investing in new satellite and hybrid technologies to connect people, devices and networks.”
Future satellites will carry HTS software-defined payloads that could be reprogrammed to configure spot beam coverage.
Intelsat expects to spend up to US$250M this year followed by US$225-300M in 2021. Its 2022 capital expenditure could be US$225-US$325M. Five satellites and ground infrastructure are in its expenditure plan to 2022 which includes plans to launch the Galaxy 30 satellite this year and Intelsat 40e in 2022. Intelsat has plans for three more satellites but has not yet selected the manufacturer.
Eutelsat intends to invest €400M (US$440M) per year on satellites, launching at least three satellites in the next three years for mobility services including Eutelsat Quantum and Eutelsat Konnect VHTS for services over Europe.
Then, Eutelsat 10B is planned for launch in 2022 to provide maritime coverage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.
Thales Alenia Space is contracted to build Eutelsat 10B which will replace Eutelsat 10A, due to finish service in 2023. The 10B satellite will carry two widebeam C- and two multi-beam HTS Ku-band payloads.
A high-capacity payload covering the North Atlantic corridor, Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East will be included. A second HTS payload extends coverage across the Atlantic Ocean, Africa and the Indian Ocean. The satellite’s HTS payloads will be able to process more than 50 GHz of bandwidth, offering a throughput of around 35 Gbps. The entire satellite payload will be digitally processed, offering capacity allocation flexibility.
Eutelsat chief executive Rodolphe Belmer says another planned satellite, Konnect VHTS, will carry Ka-band payloads.
“The procurement of Eutelsat 10B underpins our strategy of focusing our development in the field of connectivity,” he says. “The selection of its Ku-band payload, in complement to the future Konnect VHTS operating in Ka-band, reflects our ability to serve our customers in both Ka- and Ku-band.”
Future satellite launches and coverage
More satellite capacity additions
Sky Perfect JSAT is expanding its capacity by commissioning recently launched JCSAT-17. This followed the launch of JCSAT-1C satellite in December 2019, which came into service in January 2020. These increased the company’s fleet to 19 satellites, covering from North America to the Indian Ocean and Pacific.
Thales Alenia Space has been contracted by Hispasat to build the Amazonas Nexus satellite which will have a digital processor for flexible adaption of spot beam coverage for maritime mobility services. This satellite will provide Ku-band coverage across the Americas, Greenland and the North Atlantic. Amazonas Nexus is due to be launched in H2 2022 and represents the start of a new generation of satellites in Hispasat’s fleet.