Operators are developing a second generation of high-throughput satellites that will advance communications for shipping
As the first generation of high-throughput constellations are completed, operators are focusing on a new series of extremely powerful satellites that will transform maritime communications. Satellites under development will be more powerful and flexible than existing units to deliver much greater bandwidth to maritime and offshore users.
Inmarsat has ordered two sixth-generation geostationary satellites for its Fleet Xpress and L-band services. It is investing in extremely high-throughput satellites (XTS) over the next three years to more than double the capacity it can offer in Ka-band frequencies of radiocommunications from the Global Xpress network, says Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout.
There will also be a huge L-band payload on these satellites to boost the bandwidth Inmarsat delivers over its FleetBroadband and Fleet One services to maritime. Currently, Fleet Xpress is provided as a hybrid VSAT service with Ka-band communications over a fifth-generation constellation of satellites and L-band from Inmarsat’s fourth-generation constellation.
Inmarsat commissioned a fourth satellite for the L-band network in 2018 and is planning to launch a fifth satellite for its Global Xpress network this year. Its sixth-generation satellites are scheduled to be commissioned from 2021.
SES plans to increase its Ka-band satellite communications capabilities by investing in a new XTS constellation. It has ordered the O3b mPower constellation from Boeing Satellite Systems and expects the first of these to be launched in 2021. These satellites will operate at medium Earth orbit (MEO) to deliver far higher bandwidth than existing O3b satellites, SES maritime segment leader Greg Martin explains to Maritime Digitalisation & Communications.
He says these satellites will be manufactured with phased-array and beam-forming capabilities. This constellation will have over 30,000 fully shapeable and steerable beams that can be shifted and switched in real-time to align with shipping’s quickly changing growth opportunities.
“For O3b mPower there is clear evolution in satellite technology with digital payloads and electric-forming beams"
“For O3b mPower there is clear evolution in satellite technology with digital payloads and electric-forming beams, which gives us flexibility in their mission,” says Mr Sanders. Beam shapes will be generated by algorithms and moulded into elliptical beams or non-symmetrical shapes.
The MEO satellites will have dynamic beams of up to 5 Gbps and could be optimised to produce bandwidth for cruise ships.
In April this year, SES passed a milestone in providing faster connectivity to maritime when it launched the final four satellites of its current O3b constellation. MEO satellites were launched on a Soyuz rocket, to increase the number of O3b satellites to 20. These were launched by Arianespace at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana.
Thales Alenia Space built these satellites at its facilities in Rome, Italy, where Maritime Digitalisation & Communications witnessed their testing in December 2018.
Intelsat is planning its next constellation of XTS after completing a new generation of HTS this year. The final satellite of the EpicNG constellation, Horizons 3e (H3e), was added to the network in March. H3e provides Ku-band spot beams around Asia-Pacific maritime areas.
“Now we are looking at the design of satellites for EpicNG 2.0”
Its addition means this constellation delivers Ku-band spot beams over major shipping lanes and key areas of offshore operations, says Intelsat director of maritime Shane Rossbacher. “It is the last one of this generation,” he explains. “Now we are looking at the design of satellites for EpicNG 2.0.”
Mr Rossbacher says they will incorporate the latest programs and digital technologies to increase mobility capacity and flexibility in operations. “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 for maritime areas of high demand.
H3e was built by Boeing and launched on 25 September 2018 on an Ariane 5 vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou. It has both C-band and Ku-band payloads and is jointly operated by Intelsat and Sky Perfect JSAT Corp.
ViaSat turned to Boeing for its next-generation HTS global constellation. Two of these ViaSat-3 satellites were being prepared for launch starting this year. In 2018, ViaSat contracted SpaceX to launch these satellites on a Falcon Heavy rocket. Also last year, the business ordered a third ViaSat-3 satellite from Boeing to provide VSAT coverage over the Asia Pacific region.
Telesat has redirected its focus on low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites after completing its Vantage high-throughput satellite series. Telstar 18 Vantage HTS came 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. Telesat 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.
After this, it has invested in LEO satellites. A test LEO satellite was launched in 2018 to demonstrate its capability. This includes tests on vessels with OmniAccess in 2019. Telesat plans to launch a commercial LEO constellation in 2022.
OneWeb, which has the backing of Intelsat, is another leader in LEO-based VSAT. The first six of its LEO satellites were launched on a Soyuz vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on 27 February. OneWeb chief executive Adrian Steckel says this is the start of the largest satellite launch campaign in history. There will be a transition from proof-of-concept development to a commercial project as OneWeb anticipates it will launch 650 satellites in two years.
Around 30 satellites are scheduled to launch each month, with demonstrations and trials in 2020 and full global commercial coverage by 2021.
LeoSat Enterprises is developing a rival LEO constellation and intends to build a constellation of 108 satellites. It has secured more than US$1.5Bn in pre-launch customer agreements to deliver broadband connectivity to land mobility and fixed hubs.
Inmarsat – sixth generation, Ka/L band
SES – O3b mPower, Ka-band
Intelsat – EpicNG 2.0, Ku-band
ViaSat – ViaSat-3, Ka-band
Telesat – LEO, Ka-band
OneWeb – LEO, Ku-band
Future satellites' technical features:
Satellite life extension tests for 2019
Intelsat is leading the way on satellite life extension. It is funding the fabrication and launch of modules that can renew the fuel and life of existing satellites, which will maintain maritime connectivity without the need to build a new satellite.
Intelsat senior principal product manager Chris Insall says the first of these modules is scheduled to be introduced this year to extend the life of a satellite that provides ocean coverage over shipping routes.
This means satellite operators can focus investment on extremely high-throughput satellites that deliver high-intensity broadband over hundreds of spot beams instead of replacing ageing units.