Big satellites are the workhorses of the satellite industry, but smaller spacecraft are performing more and more missions as a growing number of customers are finding that small satellites are rugged, affordable and can perform many jobs.

According to Luca Maresi, a systems engineer at European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Space Research and Technology Center, a growing number of large institutional players such as ESA, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and the French space agency, CNES, are using small satellites not only as technology demonstrators but also for operations. “In the early 1990s, small satellites were mainly designed and built by universities and research centers for experiments and to demonstrate satellite in-flight capabilities. Most of these experiments ended with a single flight without any significant follow-on activities,” says Maresi, who also co-chairs the biannual Small Satellite Systems and Services Symposium, which gathered 150 experts from more than 70 companies and research institutes in Sardinia in September.

Small satellites traditionally have been the domain of researchers and universities, but it is the geosynchronous market that has seen the most significant shift in the demand. Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. has provided its Star-2 small geosynchronous spacecraft for customers such as Optus Networks of Australia, PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia and the former Panamsat, and as recently as April announced a contract to provide a platform to France’s Alcatel Alenia Space, which is providing the AMC-21 satellite for New Jersey-based SES Americom.

“Throughout the past five years, Orbital’s most visible successes have come in the commercial market, with the Star platform becoming the dominant small satellite for commercial satellite operators,” says Ali Atia, senior vice president of Geo Satellites for Orbital. “As a percentage of the company’s overall revenue, commercial satellites now make up about a third of Orbital’s projected 2006 revenues of almost $800 million. That is up from approximately 10 percent of a smaller revenue base just five years ago.”

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Orbital is under contract to build and deliver 16 additional satellites and 12 major subsystems throughout the next three years, says Atia, who attributes this strong growth in the in the commercial communications sector to the fact that satellite operators are seeking a better balance between available capacity and customer demand than existed at the beginning of the decade. “They have learned that a large, expensive, high-powered satellite is not always the right answer for their fleet plan. Often, an established operator needs incremental capacity to augment its fleet rather than the large amount of capacity that a large satellite would add,” says Atia. “Satellite operators have become more disciplined in their deployment of capital. In many cases, it works to the advantage of a satellite operator to purchase one small satellite now, and then deploy additional capital for a second small satellite a couple years later, once they determine there is customer demand sufficient to justify the additional capital spending.” The traditional metric of “cost per transponder year” is giving way to a new metric, “cost of a revenue-producing transponder year,” says Atia. “A small satellite represents less risk to the business plan than beginning with a more expensive, harder-to-fill satellite.”

Carl Marchetto, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s Space Systems Group, also sees increased interest from the U.S. government in the role that small satellite systems can play in national security space programs, “where the longer-term trend is toward more responsive, faster-to-orbit space systems that can deliver critical information to the battlefield theater in a time of conflict,” he says. “We do expect that the market for science-related satellites that are primarily funded by NASA will be relatively flat for the next couple of years as the space agency focuses on moving beyond Earth orbit to implementing its Vision for Space Exploration with new initiatives,” he says.

High-end satellite delivery of HD content offers broadcast community long-awaited alternative to fiber

Eutelsat Communications (NYSE Euronext Paris: ETL) and V-Nova Ltd. are unveiling at this year’s IBC a new satellite-delivered studio-quality HD contribution solution that for the first time offers broadcasters and video service providers a true alternative or back-up to fiber in terms of quality and bandwidth-efficiency.

The new solution leverages V-Nova’s PERSEUS™ Pro technology in order to replicate typical fiber-based video contribution links, including full color resolution and individual frame compression, and combines them with satellite delivery that adds the benefits of ubiquity and flexibility. This allows broadcasters to contribute studio-quality feeds, essential to maintain pristine quality, and also to benefit from editing capabilities from any location. These features are combined with compression that enables 80 Mbps of HD 4:2:2 10 bit video feeds to be uplinked by off-the-shelf flyaway antennas and routed through a standard 36 MHz transponder on Eutelsat’s global satellite fleet.

Using recognized broadcast industry metrics and with independent third-party support, Eutelsat and V-Nova have completed an exhaustive quality assessment of PERSEUS Pro via Eutelsat satellite capacity versus reference compression standards normally used via fibre. The assessment validated the superior quality of PERSEUS versus legacy contribution codecs at rates typical of satellite delivery, completing previous assessments which had demonstrated an average 30% bandwidth gain of PERSEUS Pro versus JPEG2000.

Michel Azibert, Eutelsat Chief Commercial and Development Officer, said: “The innovation we are presenting at IBC this week with V-Nova gives broadcasters and video service providers a true alternative to fiber and ensures that no compromises need be taken for studio-quality HD contribution of premium sports, cultural and news events. In working with V-Nova we can offer players in the broadcast industry a cost-effective and easy-to-deploy solution that makes no concessions on quality.”

Guido Meardi, CEO and Co-Founder of V-Nova, said: “I am delighted to see the results of the hard work of our combined teams, following the coverage of UEFA Euro 2016 and the extensive tests of the past year. This solution proves that our compression technology, PERSEUS, is a truly cross-media codec, bringing tangible benefits across multiple markets including satellite contribution. We are proud of our relationship with Eutelsat, and look forward to working together to help broadcasters and operators bring higher quality services to consumers”.

Personalized programmed selection now directly accessible through HbbTV connected TVs

Eutelsat Communications (NYSE Euronext Paris: ETL) announced at the IBC show in Amsterdam that its app, the smart programmed guide available through tablets and smartphones, is now running on connected TVs using the HbbTV standard. Available for free channels broadcasting from Eutelsat’s HOTBIRD and 7/8° West video neighborhoods, helps viewers browse through hundreds of free channels and track their favorite programs. The extension to connected TVs starts at the HOTBIRD neighborhood and will be expanded in the coming months to Eutelsat’s 7/8° west neighborhood.

More than 1.2 million downloads

Launched in April 2016, the application which is free to download on the App Store and Google Play Store, is designed for the millions of viewers in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East receiving over 400 free-to-air channels broadcast from Eutelsat’s two leading hubs, at 13° East (HOTBIRD) and 7/8° West. It has achieved a record number of downloads, reaching 1.2 million this month.

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Improved visibility of free-to-air channels is a new-generation smart program guide designed to enrich the viewer experience and represents a new way for free-to-air satellite channels to engage with their audiences. A breakdown of program schedules appears in real time in the application. The user-friendly interface, available in five languages (English, French, Russian, Italian and Arabic), allows viewers to access full details of the programs of their choice in almost 40 languages.

Personalized recommendations directly on HbbTV connected TVs

The principal features include access to all programs broadcast by channels included in the app, with the option of refining a search by time, channel or program type. Viewers can easily record their preferences, enabling the recommendation engine to put forward programs that match individual interests.

Through the addition of the HbbTV standard, viewers equipped for HOTBIRD can now directly access on their connected TV both personally selected and recommended programs.

India’s latest communication satellite GSAT-17 was successfully launched on 28 June 2017 by a heavy duty rocket of Arianespace from the spaceport of Kourou in French Guiana.

Configured around I-3K extended bus, GSAT-17 with a lift-off mass of about 3,477 kg carries payloads in Normal C- band, Extended C-band and S-band to provide various communication services. It also carries equipment for meteorological data relay and satellite based search and rescue services being provided by earlier INSAT satellites.

The European launcher Arianespace Flight VA238 blasted off from Ariane Launch Complex No 3 (ELA 3) at Kourou, a French territory located in northeastern coast of South America. The launch was delayed by a couple of minutes from the scheduled time of 2:29 hrs IST. GSAT-17 was injected into orbit shortly after co-passenger Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN was also orbited in a flawless flight lasting about 41 minutes. “GSAT-17 successfully launched by Ariane-5 VA-238 from Kourou, French Guiana,” ISRO announced after the mission. GSAT-17 will strengthen ISRO’s current fleet of 17 telecommunications satellites and is currently in Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

This will be the third satellite launch by ISRO, the other two being first developmental flight of GSLV MkIII and PSLV C-38 missions — both from Sriharikota spaceport. GSLV MkIII successfully launched GSAT-19 satellite on June 5 while PSLV-C38 orbited Cartosat-2 Series satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites on June 23 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. ISRO, which has been dependent on the Ariane-5 rocket for carrying its heavier satellites, is developing GSLV Mk III for this purpose.

Announcing the successful launch of the satellite, Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel tweeted: “Confirmed: GSAT-17 has successfully separated from its #Ariane5 launcher #VA238 @ISRO ” Thanking Arianespace, Director Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre Dr K Sivan who watched the launch from the mission control center called it a “text book mission”. Noting it as a special mission for ISRO, he said “GSAT-17 is a need of the hour for ISRO and India as it provides the continuity in services of two ageing satellites, as well as augmenting our transponder capability, and widening our horizon to mobile satellite services as well as to Antarctica areas.”

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GSAT-17’s co-passenger Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN is a two-payload “condosat” produced by Thales Alenia Space for Hellas Sat and Inmarsat. Once in orbit, the Hellas Sat 3 component will deliver direct-to-home and telecom services to maintain and expand Hellas Sat’s business reach, while the Inmarsat S EAN component provides the satellite portion of Inmarsat’s new European Aviation Network.

Hellas Sat (member of the Arabsat Group) is a premium satellite operator, offering services in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa from the orbital position of 39 East. Inmarsat is the leading provider of global mobile satellite communications services. The total payload carried on Flight VA238 was approximately 10,177 kg.

GSAT-17 will be the 21st satellite from ISRO to be launched by Arianespace, and its designed in-orbit operational life is about 15 years. After its injection into GTO, ISRO’s Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan takes control of GSAT-17 and performs the initial orbit raising maneuvers using the Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) of the satellite, placing it in circular Geostationary Orbit, the Indian space agency has said.