Tag Archive for: Satellite

Viasat said March 2 it is partnering with Ligado Networks to break into the emerging market for providing satellite services directly to consumer smartphones and other devices.

Viasat is primarily known for using satellites to provide broadband services in the Ka-band spectrum. However, since 2014, the company has also utilized the L-band from Ligado Networks’ SkyTerra-1 geostationary satellite to offer lower-bandwidth mobile satellite services in North America.

These services include providing connectivity for monitoring and tracking IoT devices and other machines that require external antennas. Viasat has partnered with Skylo, a San Francisco-based venture, to expand these services across various markets, such as consumer smartphones, automotive, and defense.

The two companies plan to integrate their technology and conduct testing over the air to ensure that the end-to-end solution is optimized and commercially ready. These services will initially be limited to low-bandwidth applications, such as simple two-way messaging, similar to the SOS feature launched by Apple for its latest iPhone and the capabilities other operators plan to launch in 2023.

“The partners aim to bring smartphone messaging, wearable connectivity, and IoT services enabling cellular devices to connect seamlessly via satellite rapidly to some of the world’s most attractive markets,” Viasat, Ligado Networks, and Skylo said in a joint news release.

“Longer term, we believe space-based networks can help scale these applications by substantially increasing network data rates and capacity; increasing service convenience and availability; and reducing costs,” Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg said in an accompanying statement.

The companies involved did not disclose any further details about the non-binding Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) that they signed with each other. It appears that the agreements do not cover the MSAT-2 satellite, which Ligado operates primarily as a backup for SkyTerra-1. Ligado also has another satellite called SkyTerra-2, a replica of SkyTerra-1, which is already constructed but remains in storage for future commercial services.

Viasat is considering offering direct-to-smartphone services using satellites in geostationary and non-geostationary orbits. The partnership with Ligado and Skylo is expected to accelerate Viasat’s entry into the direct-to-device market as it seeks to expand its satellite connectivity services globally with its upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation and plans to acquire Inmarsat of the United Kingdom. Viasat is currently working to obtain regulatory approval for the acquisition of Inmarsat, which operates a global constellation of geostationary L-band satellites and is also considering plans for low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Recently, British handset maker Bullitt announced the release of Android smartphones that can connect to L-band satellites operated by Inmarsat and other geostationary operators, in partnership with Skylo and Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek.

Inmarsat also leases L-band spectrum to Ligado. Inmarsat launched legal action against Ligado Dec. 15 over missed payments under this contract; however, it withdrew the lawsuit just weeks later for reasons it did not disclose.

Ligado’s payment issues came after plans to put its L-band spectrum into use terrestrially for a 5G network in the United States were put on hold following concerns it could disrupt GPS systems.

Ligado announced Feb. 23 it is pooling its satellite spectrum with Omnispace, a startup developing plans for a global non-geostationary connectivity constellation using S-band spectrum, to target direct-to-smartphone opportunities specifically.

According to Globalstar, Apple is providing the company with $252 million to support and cover upfront costs for replenishing its low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.

Apple is giving the funds as a prepayment for using the network to upgrade satellite services launched last year for its latest iPhone 14 Models, which can connect with one of Globalstar’s existing 24 satellites in LEO for emergency services outside cellular coverage.

Globalstar picked MDA and Rocket Lab in February 2022 to supply an initial 17 satellites for launch by the end of 2025 in a contract worth $327 million. The contract includes an option for up to nine additional satellites at $11.4 million each.

The satellite operator intends to fund any upfront costs not covered by Apple’s prepayment with its own cash.

Apple has already agreed to reimburse Globalstar for 95% of the constellation; however, it previously required the satellite operator first to raise third-party financing to fund the manufacturing contract.

Removing the need to raise this financing amid challenging macroeconomic conditions clears a significant degree of uncertainty for Globalstar’s constellation plans. 

Last year, the operator sought to extend payment deadlines under its manufacturing contract as rising interest rates made closing the financing difficult.

Globalstar’s shares jumped more than 10% on the news.

In a regulatory filing with the Securities Exchange Commission, the company said it expects the prepayment to be recouped in installments beginning no later than the third quarter of 2025.

Globalstar is allocating 85% of the capacity on its next-generation constellation to Apple. The operator plans to continue offering legacy services including connectivity for Internet of Things (IoT) devices with the remaining 15%.

Apple has not said how it could use Globalstar’s new satellites to improve satellite-enabled features. 

The company is currently offering its satellite-enabled SOS capability on iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro for free for two years.

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.

LunaH-Map is one of 10 cubesats that hitched a ride on SLS as secondary payloads. The six-unit (6U) smallsat carried a neutron spectrometer designed to map water ice concentrations at the moon’s south pole.

In the months leading up to the launch, he had been quietly raising concerns about the health of LunaH-Map. The spacecraft was delivered in mid-2021 and installed on the rocket that fall, after which there was no ability to recharge its batteries. As the Artemis 1 launch slipped from early 2022 to late in the year, he worried that the batteries were discharging, keeping the spacecraft from operating immediately after deployment.

At the KSC press site hours before liftoff, he was cautiously optimistic about LunaH-Map. Ground tests of batteries like those on the cubesat showed a low discharge rate, suggesting they should still have plenty of charge left. Even if the batteries were depleted, he said the spacecraft’s solar panels could charge them up enough to get the spacecraft ready for a key maneuver days after launch.

He was right not to be concerned about the cubesat’s batteries. “Our batteries were at 70% state of charge when we got our first piece of telemetry,” he said in a talk about LunaH-Map at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) a month after launch. “It was in line with our very optimistic predictions about where our batteries might be.”

The problem instead was with the cubesat’s propulsion system, an electric thruster called BIT-3 from Busek that uses solid iodine as propellant. The thruster did not operate as expected in the days after launch, causing the spacecraft to miss its primary opportunity to maneuver into orbit around the moon.

Hardgrove said telemetry from LunaH-Map suggested that a valve in the thruster was partially stuck closed. “The sticking is something that we knew about,” he said, suggesting it came from the long wait for the launch. “We didn’t really want to wait around for a year, but we had no choice.”

Engineers think that heating the valve may free it up. If that happens by mid-January, he said, LunaH-Map can maneuver into an alternative trajectory that would allow it to enter orbit around the moon in about a year.

Despite the struggles with the SIMPLEx missions and the Artemis 1 cubesats, smallsats have had some successes beyond Earth orbit. A second JAXA cubesat on Artemis 1, EQUULEUS (for Equilibrium Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft), successfully flew by the moon and tested a water-based propulsion system that placed the spacecraft on a low-energy trajectory to the Earth-moon L-2 Lagrange point. NASA’s BioSentinel cubesat was tumbling after deployment. Still, controllers were able to stabilize the spacecraft and maintain contact with it as it flew by the moon to study the effects of radiation on microorganisms.

LICIACube exceeded expectations. “NASA was expecting to get a couple pictures” from LICIACube, said David Avino, chief executive of Argotec, in an interview in November. “We had 627 pictures taken by our spacecraft.”

He hopes the success of the two cubesat missions will generate more demand for its smallsats for both Earth orbit and deep space missions. “We want to have something that will not be cheap but will be reliable,” he said. “The main keyword is reliability. That means something that will allow our satellites to last up to five years, even in deep space.”

Even before launch, those who worked on the Artemis 1 cubesats knew that many of their satellites might malfunction. In an April 2022 report from a workshop on deep space smallsats, they compared their efforts to the early development of cubesats, when missions had high failure rates as designers struggled with the technical and cost limitations of such spacecraft.