Tag Archive for: GEO

During financial results, Eutelsat CEO Eva Berneke stated that a search for companies to construct OneWeb’s second-generation constellation would most likely commence by the end of June. The RFP (request for proposals) is anticipated to allow for launches to begin in 2025 or 2026 for a low Earth orbit (LEO) network with an estimated cost of $4 billion.

Gen 2’s needs will be covered by launch options reserved by the companies, which include new rockets created by Arianespace, Blue Origin, and Relativity Space. According to Berneke, replenishment plans for OneWeb’s current generation of 648 proposed satellites would only extend the constellation’s lifespan to 2027 or 2028.

The next-generation constellation is expected to enable faster speeds and denser coverage with many more satellites, even though the specifications have not yet been finalized. OneWeb has thus far deployed 542 satellites, while SpaceX and India’s space agency intend to launch a batch of satellites in late February and early March, giving OneWeb global coverage once they become operational by January 2024.

The French geostationary satellite operator, Eutelsat, is reportedly making good progress in obtaining the final regulatory approvals needed from France and the United States to acquire OneWeb through a merger deal that was announced last year. Unlike Viasat’s plan to purchase British operator Inmarsat, the Eutelsat-OneWeb deal did not raise any concerns from Europe regarding a potential reduction in competition in the satellite services market.

According to CEO Rodolphe Belmer, there were no regulatory questions raised that were not typical, and there is no overlap between OneWeb’s and Eutelsat’s markets, as they operate in different orbits with no competing capacities. However, Belmer emphasized the need for regulators to fully understand the satellite market, especially given the newness of the constellation market. Assuming that Eutelsat’s shareholders approve the transaction, the company expects to complete the OneWeb deal in the second or third quarter of this year.

Despite a declining market for satellite TV, OneWeb has provided a bright spot in the financial results of Eutelsat. For the six months ending December 2022, Eutelsat’s total revenues decreased by 6.1% compared to the same period in 2021, when adjusted for currency changes on a like-for-like basis.

However, fixed broadband revenues and sales of mobile connectivity services increased by 17% and 33%, respectively. Meanwhile, government revenues decreased by 20% due to non-renewals from the U.S. Department of Defense, and broadcast activity sales fell by 6.7%.

Eutelsat is also experiencing difficulties due to sanctions on Russian and Iranian channels, which are expected to cause a slight deterioration in revenues for the six months ending June. To pivot towards connectivity services, Eutelsat has heavily invested in geostationary communication satellites and has purchased OneWeb. Two of the four satellites launched for Eutelsat in the second half of 2022, Konnect VHTS and Eutelsat 10B, focus on broadband markets.

Viasat is seeking to create hybrid narrowband direct-to-smartphone services using satellites in geostationary and non-geostationary orbits according to its CEO, Mark Dankberg, who spoke at the SmallSat Symposium in California on Feb. 8.

Viasat is open to partnering with low Earth orbit companies, including rival SpaceX. The acquisition of Inmarsat is still awaiting regulatory approval, and Viasat is focusing on improving payload integration to save space by looking at standardized cubesat-type form factors to allow new entrants into these systems.

Advances in technology are making it easier to communicate from orbit without large antennas or specialized phones, and direct-to-smartphone capabilities are becoming increasingly compelling. However, Viasat is aware of the potential negative impact of having any cell phone or smartwatch in the world connect directly to a space system, which is not consistent with the self-interest of many nations.

As direct-to-smartphone efforts pick up, it is likely to have knock-on effects across the rest of the space industry, including putting more mass into orbit, increasing the threat of collisions that could threaten the viability of space operations for all operators.

Dankberg told the SmallSat Symposium that while Viasat made its multi-billion dollar offer for Inmarsat because of its international broadband presence, its direct-to-smartphone narrowband capabilities are increasingly compelling.

He said “one of the biggest potential markets is direct-to-device,” which is “going to have a big influence, both positive and negative when it comes to … the self-interest of nations.”

Advances in technology and telecom protocol standardization are making it easier to communicate to and from orbit without large antennas or specialized phones. 

“It’s possible to control that,” Dankberg said, “but when any cell phone in the world, or smartwatch … within your borders can connect to a space system directly, that is not consistent with the self-interest of quite a few nations in the world.”

Small LEO satellites have been getting larger to improve their capabilities as launch economics improve, Dankberg noted.

He pointed to how SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites have increased from about 250 kilograms to the 2,000-kilogram range to add new capabilities, such as direct-to-smartphone services, into its second-generation broadband constellation.

Viasat believes “you do not need very large satellites to accomplish missions in space,” Dankberg said, and is focusing on improving payload integration to save space.

“We’re looking at standardized cubesat-type form factors that we think we can buy that will create a vibrant ecosystem,” he added, “to allow many new entrants into these into these systems.”

Viasat is still waiting on regulatory approvals from the United Kingdom and European to buy Inmarsat after announcing the deal in November 2021.

The statuary deadline for the U.K.’s competition watchdog to decide on the deal is March 30, Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss said in a recent investor note, and “then the last remaining hurdle would be the European Commission which could potentially elongate the timeline.”

Viasat, which recently completed the $2 billion sale of its tactical data communications business, reported $651 million in revenue from continuing operations in the three months to the end of December, up 4% year-on-year.

Adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, declined 15% to $139 million. 

The operator also disclosed an extra few weeks of delays for its debut next-generation ViaSat-3 satellite, designed to add significant amounts of capacity over the Americas, which is now slated for a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in the week of April 8.

The second ViaSat-3, covering Europe, Middle East, and Africa, is counting down to a September launch on one of United Launch Alliance’s last Atlas launches.

The Space Force is expected to shift investments from large satellites like the Space Based Infrared System, which the Air Force acquired around 20 years ago to smaller spacecraft.

According to the the head of military space acquisitions, the era of massive satellites needs to be a thing of the past for the Department of Defense and he told the government and industry executives about this a week ago.

Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, since taking office has been insistent that reforms are needed in satellite procurements, including the transition to smaller satellites that can be built and launched within a three-year period, compared to a decade or longer for traditional large satellites. 

Calvelli spoke at the National Security Space Association’s defense and intelligence conference in a fireside chat with former DoD official Doug Loverro.

Echoing points he made in previous public appearances, Calvelli called for DoD to break from the past and embrace more agile ways to buy satellites in order to make United States of America systems more resilient to threats. Most space-based systems the U.S. military needs — for communications, space domain awareness, missile detection and tracking, navigation, weather and other applications — can be accomplished using small satellites, Calvelli said. 

“We are transforming from what’s been called ‘big juicy targets’ of the past to a more proliferated and more resilient architecture that can be counted on during times of crisis and conflict,” he said. 

Using commercially available satellite buses and components, DoD can build smaller spacecraft for operations in low, medium or geostationary Earth orbits, Calvelli said. “I see us building small satellites everywhere, regardless of whether it’s LEO MEO or GEO.”

Calvelli made the case that the traditional “big structures with lots of payloads on them” can be broken down into smaller satellites which would be harder for an enemy to target. That concept, also known as “disaggregation,” was advocated by some Air Force officials a decade ago but was largely rejected in favor of big satellites that, although expensive, can operate in orbit for decades. 

In light of recent advances in anti-satellite weapons developed by China and Russia, the Pentagon has to pivot to more resilient systems, Calvelli stressed. “I do believe that we can break apart the big behemoths in GEO and break them into smaller bite-sized chunks which is going to diversify the architecture and protect us more.”

‘Do not design new buses’

Since taking office seven months ago, Calvelli has noticed that Space Force program offices tend to design bespoke satellite buses, another practice that he wants to end. 

“If you need some new tech, that’s okay. But keep that development focused on the payload. Do not create new buses,” he said. 

There are plenty of commercially available buses to choose from, he said. “We love building new buses. We love building new bus components. We love doing new things that are already out there,” he said. “If you need to do some tech development, keep it minimal.”

ST Engineering iDirect plans to bring more of its technology to some of the satellite network business plans developing around the world in the coming year. However, it has been an interesting time for the company. Its former CEO Kevin Steen recently left to join OneWeb Technologies, and Ka Hoe Low took the helm as interim CEO of ST Engineering iDirect. He is also president of the Satcom Global Business Area (GBA) for ST Engineering.

Low, who joined the company in 2016, has mentioned that the satellite sector is in the midst of an exciting transformation and that he believes that trends within the industry provide very strong opportunities for growth.

“We are looking at a surge in satellite capacity, driven by the advent of new, large constellations in multiple orbits. This is coupled with the falling price of capacity and an explosion in demand for connectivity. In addition, technological advancements such as virtualization and the cloud are preparing the ground for 5G infrastructure that will create a network of networks, of which satellite is a critical part,” Low said. “As a ground segment provider, we will offer end-to-end network orchestration in a multi-orbit, multi-constellation, space-terrestrial world. We are an integral part of the fabric that will knit everything together and we have a unifying role to play.”

The last 12 months in the satellite industry have been characterized by huge deals involving the likes of Viasat and Inmarsat, Eutelsat and OneWeb. Low believes the ground segment can benefit from industry consolidation.

“The industry is innovating very quickly, and consolidation could be beneficial if it results in satellite operators that have the scale and reach to invest in new constellations with the capacity and capabilities that will drive strong growth in new use cases and end-user demand. As the provider of technology to enable these new constellations, ground segment players will benefit from this,” he said. “On the ground segment side, there could also be an opportunity for consolidation, where it makes sense. For example, on the terminal side, where there are many new entrants creating a more fragmented market.

In the last couple of years, ST Engineering iDirect has made quite a few investments and acquisitions. It acquired Newtec and Glowlink in 2019 and made an investment in IoT startup HiSky last year.

The expectations are high on the ground technology side of the industry to harness the wave of capacity launching to orbit. ST Engineering iDirect made headlines this year with its ‘New Ground’ initiative. Low said he believes that things are changing significantly, and that satellite is indeed at a point where it can break out of its niche and become an integral part of the much wider connectivity fabric.

“For us, New Ground is a broader spirit of innovation and focused collaboration across the entire ecosystem inspired by a new spirit of innovation that embraces everything new space, new ground, telco, and IT to shape the future of connectivity,” he said.

Low cites one example, how ST Engineering iDirect took a leading role in forming the DIS standards group, which has now merged with DIFI (Digital Intermediate Frequency Interoperability Consortium) to push that collaboration forward. As a member of DIFI, ST Engineering iDirect is involved in partnerships with other ecosystem players to develop an open digitized standard for the satcom industry. Low believes this new standard will enable all manufacturers to build interoperable technologies that work in both open and closed network topologies, digitizing the interface between modulator/demodulator, modem, and radio frequency (RF) components.

Low believes that cloud-enabled satcom is going to be pivotal to the future of satellite communications. He believes there has been a gradual move away from large CapEx-heavy teleports to cloud-based platforms which enable businesses to be much more agile, flexible, and scalable and to access the cloud from any location, ultimately allowing faster time to market and revenue. He talks of how satellite architecture technology continues to advance and to create a natural evolution that has graduated from broadbeam and high throughput satellites (HTS) toward the use of dynamic and highly flexible payloads that are in sync with the power and scalability of the cloud.

Low said: “ST Engineering iDirect strongly believes that initiatives led by like-minded companies are pivotal to sharing ideas and innovation. Such alliances can push our industry forward instead of holding us back from what’s possible. Impactful collaboration is built on sharing goals, knowledge, skills, and experience and ultimately, sharing success. We have 35 years experience in serving our customers’ needs. We know what their requirements are, and how to meet them. The satellite industry has every reason to be optimistic about the future.”