The EpicNG high-throughput satellite constellation will enable shipowners to implement IoT, retain crew and implement vessel monitoring
Intelsat completed its EpicNG high-throughput satellite (HTS) network in March, commissioning the Horizons 3e (H3e) satellite. This enables ships to remain under spot beams of high intensity Ku-band around major shipping routes worldwide.
H3e provides Ku-band spot beams around Asia-Pacific maritime areas and completes Intelsat’s EpicNG phase one constellation, says Intelsat director of maritime Shane Rossbacher. “It is the last one of this generation,” he tells Maritime Digitalisation & Communications. “Our EpicNG 1.0 constellation is completed. Now we are looking at the design of satellites for EpicNG 2.0.”
“Now we are looking at the design of satellites for EpicNG 2.0”
Boeing built the H3e satellite which was launched on 25 September 2018 on an Ariane 5 vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana into an orbital slot at 169ºE. It has both C-band and Ku-band payloads to deliver faster connectivity to the region and is jointly operated by Intelsat and Sky Perfect JSAT Corp.
Intelsat has five other EpicNG satellites providing spot beams of Ku-band over the Americas, Atlantic Ocean, Africa, Europe, the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean. H3e completes this constellation with coverage over the Pacific, East China Sea, South China Sea, Malacca Strait and the eastern side of the Indian Ocean.
H3e has more advanced technology than the first satellite, IS-29e, commissioned in 2016, says Mr Rossbacher. EpicNG 2.0 satellites will have the latest technology for more flexibility in Ku-band coverage.
“We are looking at software-defined satellites that will allow us to reshape and refocus satellite beams”
“We are looking at software-defined satellites that will allow us to reshape and refocus satellite beams,” he explains. “We will be able to focus coverage to where it is needed.” This will enable Intelsat to provide focused coverage for one end-user, such as a cruise ship, or to focus connectivity for maritime areas of high demand.
Intelsat will continue to invest in traditional widebeam satellites as it replaces older units or provides more maritime VSAT coverage. Mr Rossbacher says the next satellite to be brought into service will be IS 39. It is scheduled to be launched this year to extend widebeam coverage over the Indian Ocean. There are 12 satellites in Intelsat’s widebeam network providing substantial ocean coverage “and we will be adding to this network as it expands” he adds.
Mr Rossbacher thinks it is important for all maritime end-users to have multiple satellite beams, including a mixture of wide and spot beams, to maintain connectivity. “We want to have multi-layers of satellite coverage to provide depth and resilience and prevent ships having line-of-sight blockages,” he explains.
This is increasingly important for shipowners and managers as they invest in internet of things (IoT) technology and vessel monitoring across their fleets. “Bandwidth and connectivity to ships means savings on fuel and port stays,” says Mr Rossbacher. Owners can use data from vessels to make more informed decisions on routeing, machinery performance, reducing fuel costs and optimising time in port.
“When owners rely on this connectivity for IoT, these operations would be put at risk if the satellite coverage was not there,” Mr Rossbacher warns. Which is why there are choices in beam coverage. “We can provide another satellite beam to prevent the ship from falling back to L-band,” he says.
“Operations would be put at risk if the satellite coverage was not there”
Owners can have two Ku-band antennas on board for additional redundancy, in case vessels are operated in beam shadows such as close to an offshore drilling rig or platform.
Mr Rossbacher says owners are increasingly investing in VSAT for IoT and vessel monitoring, for better reporting and compliance with regulations and for improving crew welfare and retention. “Shipowners can make savings from crew retention,” he says. There are lower recruitment and training costs if seafarers are retained. “Owners and managers do not want crew to be dissatisfied,” Mr Rossbacher continues. “Seafarers are being more selective of which ships they will serve on.” Ship connectivity is a major differentiator.
Intelsat provides ship VSAT through service providers and does not go direct to the end-user, says Mr Rossbacher. It can offer single channel per carrier or time division multiple access depending on end-user requirements. It offers widebeam Ku-band with service providers leasing gigabytes of capacity on satellite beams. Intelsat also provides services through its Flex Maritime service, which is based on the iDirect Velocity platform and includes the EpicNG spot beams. Its Flex Maritime customers include KVH Industries, Navarino and KDDI in Japan.
Additional satellite investments
Other maritime VSAT satellite operators are also investing in their fleets.
• Telesat brought Telstar 18 Vantage HTS into service in Q1 2019 after it was launched in September 2018. It provides C-band and Ku-band wide beams across Asia and the Pacific and spot beams of high intensity Ku-band focused over Indonesia and Malaysia.
Telstar 18 Vantage was built by Maxar Technologies and launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in Florida, US. It provides coverage from southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and Alaska. Telstar will next launch Telstar Vantage 19 to offer Ku-band widebeam and Ka-band spot beams over the North Atlantic, South America and the Caribbean.
• Eutelsat is planning to launch two satellites in Q2 2019. Eutelsat 7C will provide Ku-band coverage over the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. Eutelsat 5 West B will deliver Ku beams over Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Eutelsat is scheduled to start operating its first Quantum and Konnect satellites in 2020 if they are launched as planned by year-end.
In 2018, Eutelsat signed a multi-transponder contract with an unnamed service provider on multiple satellites for capacity dedicated to maritime connectivity. It relocated and renamed the 33C satellite 133 West A, sold its interest in 25B satellite to Es’hailSat and de-orbited 59A. Together with Yahsat, Eutelsat also started operating the Al Yah 3 satellite to provide connectivity over Africa.
• Viasat has ordered three new satellites from Boeing Satellite Systems for a global constellation it is building. The first ViaSat-3 satellites will be launched by SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket after a contract was announced in 2018. The third ViaSat-3 satellite, ordered in 2018, will serve the Asia Pacific region.
Snapshot CV: Shane Rossbacher
Shane Rossbacher has more than 25 years of maritime satellite communications experience. He is Intelsat’s director of maritime and is responsible for a portfolio that includes the Flex Maritime platform. He has previously held leadership roles at Globe Wireless and Rydex and was Inmarsat’s vice president of business development and portfolio management for maritime.
Intelsat’s EpicNG constellation
IS-29e – Caribbean, North Atlantic Ocean, South America
IS-32e – Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean
IS-33e – Africa, Europe, Indian Ocean
IS-35e – Atlantic Ocean, Europe
IS-37e – South America, South Atlantic Ocean, Southern Ocean
Horizons H3e – Asia-Pacific