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 as fast as 6 Mbps on the downlink and 2 Mbps on the uplink, via KVH’s layered mini-VSAT Broadband HTS network.
TracPhone V30’s connectivity via this network includes KVH’s multi-level, cyber-security program as standard. This provides advanced network-level firewall, automated threat management, encrypted drives and security functions.
This VSAT features the KVH Manager suite of tools, providing vessel operators with insight and control over data usage, enabling them to manage operational and crew use. Other features include 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.
“Our compact and lightweight antenna is easy to install, and the flexibility of Intelsat’s service allows end-users to quickly and easily dial bandwidth up or down to meet their real-time needs.”
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. With a Dialog modem these speeds are increased to 50/10 Mbps.
Z5MK4-Ka can be equipped with either a standard 5W block up converter (BUC) or an optional 10W BUC. KNS said it was designed for better accuracy, higher tracking performance, easier monitoring and control.
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.”
“Many of our antennas are multi-orbit, allowing them to take advantage of upcoming MEO and LEO VSAT networks”
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 is its first partner, but Ms Plessy expects more will follow.
“We will be offering connectivity 10-times faster than typical VSAT, with high speed, low latency,” she says. “We will offer 100 Mbps all the time with gigabyte plans.”
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 December 2020, Viasat acquired service provider RigNet in an all-stock transaction, valued at around US$222M.
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.
LEO constellations on the way for offshore
At least three more LEO constellations will rival OneWeb for offshore vessel connectivity in the coming years. Elon Musk’s Starlink LEO constellation has already started regional service testing for satellite-based internet services in remote areas of North America and the UK.
Mr Musk’s SpaceX has launched more than 800 of these satellites into orbit. Starlink aims to have 1,440 satellites in operation, supported by ground stations, by the end of 2021. There are plans to have around 12,000 in the constellation by 2026.
Not to be outdone, Amazon is planning its own LEO constellation under Project Kuiper. This will operate in Ka-band with an initial constellation of 3,236 satellites. Amazon has developed a terminal for terrestrial services. This is a phased array antenna for high-speed, low-latency broadband in a form factor smaller and lighter than parabolic antennas. Its prototype has demonstrated connectivity up to 400 Mbps.
Canada-headquartered Telesat ordered satellites from ThalesAleniaSpace for its planned Lightspeed LEO constellation in February 2021. It expects to deliver dynamic LEO broadband services for maritime and offshore from 2023. This will initially comprise 298 satellites, enabling testing in H1 2023 over phased array antennas.