Telesat and OneWeb are investing in LEO constellations, while Intelsat and Eutelsat plan more HTS launches
Satellite operators are planning for a future in maritime broadband connectivity with high-throughput satellites (HTSs) in geostationary Earth orbit and smaller satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) for VSAT services.
Telesat is the latest operator to invest in HTS and LEO technology. It already operates a fleet of 15 geostationary satellites, which includes its first HTS, Telesat 12 Vantage. This satellite was built by Airbus Defence & Space and commissioned in 2016. It has Ku-band spot beams over the South Atlantic, eastern side of the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, western section of the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and northern European seas.
Telesat has two more Vantage-class satellites in the pipeline. Telesat president and chief executive Dan Goldberg said in a statement in February that these satellites were scheduled for launch in Q3 2018. Telesat 18 Vantage will provide widebeam Ku-band in the northern Pacific, around south east Asia and the ocean between Australia and New Zealand. There will also be Ku-band spot beams over Malaysia and Indonesia.
In comparison, Telesat 19 Vantage will offer Ku-band widebeam and Ka-band spot beams over the North Atlantic and the Caribbean, plus there will be Ku-band coverage over South America and Ka-band spots over northern Canada.
Mr Goldberg said Telesat had also started testing new LEO satellites as it pushes to begin a new global broadband service by 2021. “Our LEO constellation will deliver transformative, low latency and fibre-like broadband,” he said. Telesat has agreements to use up to 4 GHz of Ka-band spectrum with this new constellation.
After a launch failure in Q4 2017, the first LEO satellite – built by Surrey Satellite Technology – was deployed into a test orbit in January on a polar satellite launch vehicle operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation. Telesat also installed ground infrastructure at its teleport in Allan Park in Canada to support testing that will take place this year.
Telesat plans to have 120 LEO satellites in orbit by 2021 and is evaluating options to expand this initial configuration. Testing using the first satellite will involve OmniAccess, which acquired by Marlink in March 2018 and is a supplier of VSAT to superyachts and cruise ships. Optus Satellite, which provides satellite services in Australia and New Zealand, intends to trial connectivity using its teleport in Belrose in New South Wales, Australia.
OneWeb is also building LEO satellites for a constellation that it expects to begin to launch during Q4 2018. OneWeb contracted Echostar subsidiary Hughes Network Services to manufacture the ground network to support a constellation of hundreds of mini satellites. It also contracted Airbus to build the first 10 satellites in Toulouse, France, for testing in 2019.
Since 2016, OneWeb has raised around US$1.5Bn from its partners, which include Virgin Group, SoftBank, Bharti Group, Qualcomm and Airbus. It is building a satellite manufacturing factory in Florida that is scheduled to open in 2020.
Intelsat plans to integrate the OneWeb constellation coverage with Ku-band coverage from its own constellation of geostationary satellites for maritime and other markets. It has also been building an HTS constellation, EpicNG, with coverage over the Atlantic Ocean, European seas, Middle East and Indian Ocean. Intelsat has already commissioned five HTS in this constellation and is working on another to cover the Asia-Pacific region.
It is working in collaboration with Sky Perfect JSAT on Horizons 3e, which is expected to be launched in Q1 2019 to provide spot beam coverage over the Pacific, East China Sea, South China Sea and Malacca Strait.
EpicNG has a mixture of Ku-band and C-band spot beams that provide high levels of bandwidth to commercial shipping, cruise ships and offshore oil and gas floating facilities and support vessels.
IS-29e was the first of these satellites to be launched, commissioned in April 2016, and the IS-37e satellite was the latest to be deployed, in January 2018. There is a lull in EpicNG satellite launches this year, but the final one in Intelsat’s plans will be commissioned in 2019.
IS-29e, provides spot beams of Ku-band over South America, North Atlantic and the Caribbean, IS-32e over the Atlantic and Caribbean and IS-33e has Ku-band coverage over Europe and was the first to provide spot beams in C-band, in this instance over the Indian Ocean.
atellite IS-35e also provides C-band spot capacity, in this case to the Atlantic Ocean. It also has Ku-band widebeams with coverage over the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Europe and Africa.
IS-37e provides a wider-ranging service that includes some of the first spot beams in the Southern Ocean. It has Ku-band widebeam coverage that is augmented with spot beams in both C-band and Ku-band. Some of this coverage is over the South Atlantic. There is also broadband connectivity from Argentina and Chile to Antarctica, specifically for research vessels and cruise ships to use.
C-band spot beam coverage is different from Ku-band high intensity beams as they cater for vessel operators that have legacy C-band systems on board, such as drilling rigs and cruise ships.
Eutelsat plans to spend more than €400M on new satellites each year to the end of June 2020 to increase broadband communications for maritime, government, airline and land-based users. This includes two satellites that are scheduled to be launched in the last six months of 2018 and two in 2019.
Some of this investment is spent to replace ageing geostationary satellites as these are decommissioned, while capital expenditure is also focused on expansion opportunities.
Eutelsat is also able to change position and mission of existing satellites in order to optimise coverage for its clients. For instance, in November 2017, the Eutelsat 172B high throughput satellite began operations with coverage over Asia. This Eutelsat 172A to be relocated further east and renamed Eutelsat 174A.
In H2 2018, the satellite operator expects the launch of Eutelsat 7C to provide Ku-band coverage over the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa. This will be followed by the launch of Eutelsat 5 West B that should provide Ku-band services to Europe and the Middle East.
During 2019, Eutelsat anticipates that it will commission the first of its Quantum-class satellites, which is being built by Airbus group. This is designed to provide flexible Ku-band beams to naval ships where governments request the coverage. Eutelsat also plans to launch another satellite that is yet to be named, to provide Ku-band spot beams over Africa.
Eutelsat has a fleet of 38 geostationary satellites, with a total of more than 1,400 transponders, which produce global C-band and Ku-band coverage. It has annual revenue of around €1.5Bn and a backlog of contracts worth €4.7Bn. In Q1 2018, two satellites – Eutelsat 31A and Eutelsat 16C – reached the end of their operational life and were de-orbited. It leased capacity on Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 satellite for its African connectivity project that was introduced in January.
Al Yah 3 is Yahsat’s third satellite and was launched in December 2017. Its other two satellites are Al Yah 1, providing C-band and Ku-band after its launch in April 2011, and Al Yah 2, which was launched in April 2012. Yahsat also has hosted payload on Intelsat’s IS-32e. It provides coverage over Africa, the Middle East and south west Asia.
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
IS-H3e (Horizons 3e) – Asia-Pacific
Eutelsat next launches
Satellite Launch date Coverage regions Beam type
Eutelsat 7C H2 2018 Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa Ku-band
Eutelsat 5 West B H2 2018 Europe, Middle East Ku-band
Eutelsat Quantum 2019 8 flexible beams Ku-band
Africa sat (TBN) H2 2019 Africa spot beams Ku-band