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Viasat

Viasat, ULA insist ViaSat-3 launch was competitively procured

ULA won a contract to launch one of three ViaSat-3 satellites being built for Viasat. Credit: Boeing Satellite Systems

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 24, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

United Launch Alliance and satellite operator Viasat are defending the “competed” status of a launch contract that other launch companies say they had no part in.

Fleet operator Viasat announced a contract Sept. 10 at the beginning of the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris to launch a ViaSat-3 broadband satellite on an Atlas 5 between 2020 and 2022, and told SpaceNews the company chose ULA over contenders SpaceX and Arianespace. Executives from SpaceX and Arianespace expressed surprise at this during a Sept. 11 panel of launch operators, saying they were not involved in a bid for the mission.

“I wasn’t bidding against [ULA CEO] Tory [Bruno] on that launch,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said.

Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said that even though his company is “very close to Viasat,” it was not a contender for the ViaSat-3 mission that went to ULA. “There was no competition there for Arianespace,” he said.

Bruno, during the panel, insisted Viasat did not sole source the award to ULA. “It was a competition,” he said.

He attributed the commercial Atlas 5 win to the rocket’s schedule availability, its 78 consecutive successes and the ability to fly a custom trajectory for the mission that will shave orbit-raising time when the all-electric satellite is dropped off in geostationary transfer orbit.

“They tell us price was a big factor and we were far more competitive on price than we perhaps even thought ourselves,” Bruno said.

Dave Ryan, Viasat’s president of space systems, told SpaceNews in a subsequent interview that the ViaSat-3 contract ULA won was competed amongst the potential launch providers, though Viasat’s atypical procurement process may have caused confusion.

“A lot of times they may look at our discussions and may not readily think about the fact that they are in a competition, but in reality, of course they all are,” he said.

Viasat used the same procurement style with ViaSat-1, which launched in 2011 on an International Launch Services Proton, and ViaSat-2, which launched last year on an Ariane 5, he said. Ryan joined Viasat in 2016 after those launch arrangements were made, but asserted that nothing had changed.

“We are not doing anything differently from what we’ve done in the past. It’s just not the traditional government type of process we go through,” he said, referring a formal request for proposals.

“We go through our requirements, we go through our needs, we go through our desires and we see where it leads from there,” he said.

For ULA, the deal is its first since taking over commercial Atlas 5 sales from Lockheed Martin in January.

ULA has performed eight to 14 launches per year since 2013, but only launched four commercial satellites during that time. Now, facing greater competition from SpaceX and possibly others for U.S. government launches, ULA is ready to diversify.

Bruno said the company wants to improve its commercial average from one satellite launch every other year to one to two such missions annually.

“You will see a lot more of us,” Bruno said during an interview at World Satellite Business Week, an annual conference dominated by commercial satellite operators not traditionally interested in ULA services. “We will be present in the community and will be working actively with customers to find solutions for their businesses.”

Ryan said Viasat intends to award another launch contract in the coming months but that launch providers shouldn’t expect a formal solicitation.

“We will be making future announcements probably before the end of the year on other providers for launch services,” he said.

Viasat is preparing a global broadband systems comprising three geostationary satellites. Arianespace and ULA both have launch contracts, though Viasat has not said which launch provider will go first. Viasat has yet to sign a launch contract for the third satellite.

In Viasat’s statement, the company said it remains in discussion with Arianespace and SpaceX for that mission.

SpaceNews.com

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Satellite operators spar on spectrum sharing

Spengler

PARIS — Chief executives of satellite operators took sharply divergent views on working with terrestrial mobile operators on access to spectrum, with some advocating for negotiations while another warned of making any deals.

The difference of opinions expressed during a panel at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here Sept. 10 comes as discussions continue on a potential transfer of C-band satellite spectrum to mobile operators for 5G services in the United States and next year’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) that will take up other satellite spectrum proposals.

Intelsat Chief Executive Steve Spengler, the leading advocate for the U.S. C-band spectrum proposal, argued that while C-band globally is important for Intelsat, the company felt that, in the United States, it needed to work out an arrangement that will hand over some C-band spectrum to terrestrial operators.

“The key here is protecting the incumbents while addressing the reality that the 5G situation had to be addressed one way or another,” he said. “We’d rather have a situation where we’re managing it, where we’re controlling this process, to get the right outcome.”

Supporting that proposal is SES, who with Intelsat controls the vast majority of C-band satellite spectrum in the United States. “It was a unique situation in the U.S. where there was no other practical alternative in terms of where this would go,” said Steve Collar, president and chief executive of SES. “This was an opportunity to create something that was genuinely a win-win.”

Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, left, and Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg at World Satellite Business Week in Paris (SpaceNews/Brian Berger)
Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, left, and Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg at World Satellite Business Week in Paris (SpaceNews/Brian Berger)

However, Mark Dankberg, chairman and chief executive of Viasat, took a very different view. While Viasat is not involved in the C-band spectrum discussions in the U.S., he said his experience with debates about spectrum sharing at other frequencies led him to be skeptical about working with terrestrial operators.

“I don’t really see the mobile operators as our friends, because if they really wanted satellite as part of 5G, they wouldn’t be trying to take existing spectrum away from us, which will make our services less capable and more expensive,” he said.

“We all need to be extremely wary” about the benefits of sharing satellite spectrum with terrestrial operators, he cautioned. “I think that issue about spectrum is a hugely important issue for us.”

Rupert Pearce, chief executive of Inmarsat, tried to strike a middle ground in the debate. “I think we don’t do a good enough job as a community educating the world about the potential important differentiating role of satellite in a 5G world, and we don’t do a good enough job holding our nose and going in to talk to the [mobile network operators] about why they should regard us as collaborators,” he said. The satellite industry, he said, needs to explain to companies and governments those cases where 5G services can be best provided by satellite.

While Spengler advocated for a C-band deal in the U.S., he said it’s still important for the satellite industry to advocate for other spectrum at next year’s WRC. “There is still a lot of uncertainty around Ka-band,” he said, including concerns that regulations may no longer be globally harmonized.

“We have to stay together globally to make sure that we advocate for our interests just as others will be doing for theirs,” he said.

SpaceNews.com

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Viasat books ULA Atlas 5 for a ViaSat-3 satellite launch

Atlas 5 rocket. Credit: ULA

PARIS — United Launch Alliance beat out SpaceX and Arianespace to win a launch contract for an upcoming Viasat satellite.

The deal, announced Sept. 10, is ULA’s first commercial contract since taking full responsibility for sales and marketing of the Atlas 5 from Lockheed Martin in January.

ULA will launch one of the three ViaSat-3 satellites that Carlsbad, California-based Viasat has under development2. Viasat has not decided which of the three satellites will fly on Atlas 5 but said the launch will occur between 2020 and 2022.

Dave Ryan, Viasat’s president of space systems, told SpaceNews that the company was won over by ULA’s schedule reliability and the Atlas 5 rocket’s 78 consecutive successful missions.

In a statement, ULA CEO Tory Bruno echoed those points.

“ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle is the most reliable launch vehicle in the world and we could not be more pleased that Viasat, a leading satellite broadband innovator, has recognized the value the Atlas V can offer,” he said.

Viasat has shown less patience with launch delays than other satellite operators, having switched its ViaSat-2 satellite from SpaceX to Arianespace when it became clear that Falcon Heavy would not be able to launch the satellite in 2016. ViaSat-2 launched on an Ariane 5 in June 2017, allowing Viasat to continue adding satellite broadband subscribers in the United States where its ViaSat-1 satellite was already maxed out, and to add more business elsewhere.

Ryan said ULA’s launch price, generally not the company’s strength, was also a significant factor in the award, though he declined to give specifics. The dearth of new geostationary satellite orders is being felt by launch providers, he said, making for more favorable negotiating terms for satellite operators.

“The marketplace right now helped us reach a mutually agreeable price,” he said.

Ryan said SpaceX and Arianespace were the closest contenders for the mission.

ULA will use its most powerful Atlas 5, the 551 variant (equipped with a 5-meter payload fairing and five strap-on boosters) to lift the heavyweight ViaSat-3 satellite.

Ryan said the Atlas 551 will also cut the orbit raising time for the ViaSat-3 satellite, which uses xenon-electric propulsion, by at least half, meaning the satellite would reach the geostationary arc some 36,000 kilometers up in three months or less.

Ryan said Viasat is not done signing launch contracts.

“For the diversity of our mission we continue to be in talks with Ariane[space] and with SpaceX,” he said.

Viasat has ambitions to be a global internet service provider, covering the planet with three high-throughput ViaSat-3 satellites each capable of a terabit or more of total capacity.

Viasat plans to launch the first ViaSat-3 satellite in 2020 and the third by 2022, Ryan said. The company has procured two ViaSat-3s, the first for the Americas and the second for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, from Boeing. A manufacturer selection for the last ViaSat-3, designated for the Asia-Pacific, is expected by the end of the year.

Viasat previously signed a launch agreement with Arianespace for a ViaSat-3 satellite on an Ariane 5 rocket. One more ViaSat-3 satellite awaits a launch provider, regardless of order.

SpaceNews.com

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FIRST UP Satcom | Viasat wins $122.5M FCC subsidy • Gilat suppling ground equipment for Yamal-601 • Avanti eyes DoD business with Comsat

Outside ViaSat Inc.'s Carlsbad, California headquarters. Credit: ViaSat video grab

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TOP STORIES

Viasat will receive $122.5 million in U.S. federal subsidies through the Connect America Fund, and is tasked with providing internet access to more sites than any of the other funding recipients. The Federal Communications Commission selected 103 internet service providers as part of the program’s phase two auction, which doles out $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to connect more than 700,000 homes and businesses. Viasat was the only satellite operator selected, and has the highest number of locations to connect: 190,595 sites across 20 states. Internet service providers have three years to connect 40 percent of the sites, with full buildout completed by the end of the sixth year. [FCC]

Gazprom Space Systems signed an $18 million contract with Gilat for gateways and VSAT terminals for the operator’s upcoming Ka-band satellite Yamal-601. Gilat will provide two SkyEdge 2-c gateways and “tens of thousands” of user terminals to enable new broadband services across the European and Asian regions of Russia. The two companies also agreed to study connectivity for aircraft and trains. Yamal-601 launches in 2019 on a Proton rocket, and is a replacement for Yamal-202, one of Gazprom’s four satellites. [Gazprom Space Systems]

British satellite operator Avanti and U.S. service provider Comsat signed a seven-year distribution agreement that ushers Avanti into the U.S. defense communications business. Avanti said the deal brings “immediate access to US global governmental and military activity that may otherwise take multiple years to gain approval to serve.” Hylas-4, Avanti’s newest satellite, enters service next month with capacity over Africa and the Middle East. Avanti expects the satellite will be beneficial for Comsat. [London Stock Exchange]

MORE STORIES

Kepler Communications is starting the process of finding launch providers for its Gen-1 constellation of up to 15 cubesats. The company says it needs to have its fleet in orbit by the third quarter of 2020 to meet customer commitments. Kepler envisions launching most of the satellites in groups of five to seven on two operational rockets, but is not opposed to launching one or more on a new vehicle. By the end of 2022, Kepler intends to have a constellation of 140 cubesats for Internet of Things connectivity and in-space data relay. [SpaceNews]

Satellite communications provider Speedcast is buying Globecomm for $135 million to expand its government services business. The deal, announced Tuesday and expected to close by the end of the year, will double Speedcast’s revenues from government customers and expand its presence in the maritime market. Speedcast calls itself the largest independent buyer of satellite capacity, with leases on more than 70 satellites. The company started moving into the government services market with its acquisition of UltiSat last year. [SpaceNews]

Phasor says it has customer commitments topping $300 million for the flat electronically steered antennas it is developing. The contracts are for several years of deliveries, and come with exclusivity for target markets. “These contracts demonstrate Phasor’s progression from a technology development firm to a products company,” Phasor CEO David Helfgott said in a statement. [Phasor]

The first launch of OneWeb satellites could slip into early 2019. The company planned to launch a first batch of 10 satellites on a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana in December, but OneWeb founder Greg Wyler said that launch could “move back a month or so” because of other missions on Arianespace’s manifest. The contracted launch window for the mission is between Dec. 18 and Feb. 19, and Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said it will launch the OneWeb satellites as soon as possible “taking into account its other contractual commitments.” The launch is the first of 21 Soyuz missions OneWeb purchased to deploy its initial satellite constellation, with later launches carrying as many as 36 satellites. [SpaceNews]

Telesat’s newest satellite has entered commercial service about a month following its launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Telstar-19 Vantage covers the Americas with a mix of regional wide beams in Ku-band and smaller, high-throughput spot beams in Ku and Ka-band. Built by Space Systems Loral, the satellite enables internet connectivity for consumers, stores, offices and mobile platforms like boats and airplanes. [MarketWatch]

A former Intelsat executive is the new head of the Global VSAT Forum (GVF) industry group. David Meltzer will be the new GVF secretary general, succeeding David Hartshorn, who left the organization in June after 20 years to run the non-governmental organization Geeks Without Frontiers. Meltzer was most recently general counsel and chief international officer of the American Red Cross, but previously worked at Intelsat for 16 years and Terrestar Networks for five years. Meltzer said his priority is to raise awareness of the satellite industry and advocate on its behalf. [SpaceNews]

SpaceNews.com

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Viasat’s Dankberg explains medium Earth orbit thinking, global expansion strategy

ViaSat MEO

WASHINGTON — Viasat is still working on a medium-Earth-orbit satellite constellation idea revealed almost two years ago, but has not finalized what that system would look like, Mark Dankberg, CEO of Viasat, said Aug. 9.

Viasat is “putting a bunch of work” into optimizing a 24-satellite system disclosed in a 2016 application to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that would provide connectivity using Ka-band and the lesser used V-band spectrum.

The company’s main focus has been spinning up telecommunications services on ViaSat-2, which launched last spring, and building a trio of large geostationary satellites to cover the globe, with each sporting a terabit or more of total capacity. A Viasat medium-Earth-orbit system, being closer to the Earth, would augment services from Viasat’s geostationary fleet.

“There are definitely challenges with non-GEO systems when they are trying to provide 100 percent persistent coverage everywhere in the world,” Dankberg said during an earnings call. “The direction we’ve been looking at is really looking at the non-GEO and the GEO as an integrated system, and that relieves that constraint. We don’t have to use the non-GEO to provide coverage everywhere.”

A hybrid system of GEO and MEO — something SES of Luxembourg is the only operator doing today — would provide “interesting opportunities to reinforce coverage in high-demand places and to get polar service,” Dankberg said.  

“We think it’s probably going to be a little more expensive on a per unit basis than what can be done with really good GEOs, but still could be a worthwhile addition to our fleet, and that’s the direction we are going,” he said.

Dankberg gave no timeline for fielding a MEO system. The FCC has yet to approve Viasat’s application, which would trigger regulatory deadlines to bring at least half the system into service in six years, and the full constellation in nine.

Going global

Viasat is in the midst of an expansion from its core United States market to having a global presence. That expansion started with ViaSat-2, a satellite with coverage over the majority of North America, and through partnerships with other operators of Ka-band satellites such as Telebras in Brazil, NBN in Australia and Eutelsat in France.

Dankberg said Viasat’s increasingly global customer base has helped the company reach agreements with other satellite operators, backing up services, reinforcing coverage in high-demand markets and bringing Viasat into new geographies. While those agreements have created several partnerships, Viasat’s interest in merger and acquisition activity is outside the satellite industry, he said.

“It’s not at all clear that the satellite industry is really the place to look for consolidation,” Dankberg said.

Viasat’s approach to globalization is to “really understand each market and be able to deliver services to end users in those markets, not just sell to intermediaries,” he said. That difference in approach is what caused a rift between Viasat and Eutelsat, culminating in a decision by Eutelsat to ditch an investment in ViaSat-3 and build its own 500 Gbps satellite for Europe with Thales Alenia Space.

Dankberg said Viasat has been trialing Wi-Fi hotspot services in Mexico, setting up satellite terminals that multiple users can tap into for internet access when in range. Nearly half a million people are “within a short walk” of a Viasat hotspot in Mexico, he said, and take rates are “approaching 100,000 unique devices each month.”

Viasat is using the hotspot approach as a strategy for regions where U.S.-style consumer broadband with one satellite dish per house may not be effective, Dankberg told SpaceNews in March, installing dishes at convenience stores, Wi-Fi cafes and other popular locations. The average revenue per user is low, but the aggregate number of customers becomes meaningful over time, he said.

Dankberg said Viasat is more interested in following its own approach to community Wi-Fi than participating in government programs that offer limited amounts of bandwidth. Other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America have interest in seeing Viasat provide similar services within their borders, he said.

Viasat reported $438.9 million in revenue for the months of April, May and June, up 15 percent year over year. The company’s net loss was $25 million, a decrease of $9 million. Shawn Duffy, Viasat’s chief financial officer, said the company’s recent financial performance puts it on a “strong start on our path to profitable growth.”

Dankberg said Viasat has come to grips with an antenna malfunction that cost ViaSat-2 about 15 percent of its projected maximum capacity, and redefined the satellite’s coverage area in high-demand markets “to a size that’s much closer to that originally intended.”

Dankberg said the insurance claim Viasat filed is “converging,” but remains too early to predict when it will complete. In the meantime, the company is seeing traction in the U.S. with higher speed 50 to 100 Mbps broadband subscription plans, he said.

SpaceNews.com

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Satcom companies willing to partner with China to gain market access

From left to right: Christopher Baugh, president of Northern Sky Research; Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat Enterprises; Thomas Van den Driessche, CEO of Newtec; Mark Dankberg, CEO of Viasat; Hadi Nazari, CEO of North Telecom; John-Paul Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks and PJ Beylier, CEO of SpeedCast. Credit: SpaceNews

SINGAPORE — Multiple satellite communications companies say they are willing to team up with Chinese companies in order to sell into its sizeable but regulatorily challenging market.

China’s growing prowess in satellite communications, evidenced by a growing number of exported Chinese satellites and investments in foreign satellite companies, doesn’t have satellite operators and service providers spooked the way it does satellite manufacturers and launch providers.

“For the domestic market in China we hope definitely to partner with Chinese partners,” Thomas Van den Driessche, CEO of Belgian ground systems provider Newtec, said June 25 at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum here.

“The domestic market in China is huge and it’s opening up for different types of services in land as well as maritime, fishing, boats, aviation and so on,” he said. “That’s a huge opportunity.”

Van den Driessche said the “strong evolutions” of fleet operators China Satcom in Beijing and APT Satellite in Hong Kong have caught Newtec’s attention. Both operators are investing in high-throughput satellites bringing large amounts of capacity to the Asia Pacific for broadband services. Newtec is willing to partner with Chinese companies and the Chinese government to “trigger” access to that market, he said.

“It’s an absolute partner play,” said SES Networks CEO John-Paul Hemingway. “You look at someone like SES who needs to build a global coverage for supporting mPower, mobility customers, et cetera, you have to partner with the Chinese operators.”

Luxembourg-based SES is building seven very-high-throughput “O3b mPower” satellites with Boeing to provide 10 terabits of capacity for connectivity services around the world. Earlier this month, SES gained market access from U.S. telecom regulators for 26 more medium-Earth-orbit satellites, providing regulatory assurance SES says enables it to expand the O3b constellation from equatorial to global.

SES is one of several European fleet operators with eyes on China. London-based Inmarsat has indicated that it may relocate its fourth Global Xpress satellite over China after its upcoming satellite, GX-5, launches next year.

“It’s no secret that we are also looking to do more in China and more in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ region,” Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said last year. “That is a place where we continue to have ambitions.”

Eutelsat of Paris has also stitched itself into China’s “One Belt, One Road” international trade infrastructure program, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative. In January, Eutelsat forged a “cooperation agreement” with China Unicom to use its Eutelsat-172b satellite for inflight connectivity as well as to study collaborative satellite communications services.

The Chinese market “is going toward decentralization from what we can observe,” said Hadi Nazari, CEO of North Telecom, a Dubai-based satellite services provider that uses capacity from APT Satellite, Eutelsat, YahSat and others. “When you want to go to any market … you have to see how you can enter that market.”

“We see China as a fantastic market,” said Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat, a Dutch-U.S. company raising money to build a constellation of 84 low-Earth-orbit broadband satellites.

But Chinese regulations do make it “a somewhat frustrating market,” he added. LeoSat’s constellation is designed to use inter-satellite links for low-latency, high-speed broadband services without a large number of gateway facilities built on the ground. But to access the Chinese market, LeoSat will likely have to build a gateway station there regardless.

“In a country like China — they are not the only country but they are a big country that will require us to route everything through the gateway before it goes out of the country or comes in from abroad, so one of [our unique selling points] is kind of lessened,” he said.

Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg said he views China as “both a partner and a competitor.” China has a large domestic market, but is also selling turnkey satellite systems to customers, helping create new satellite operators in countries like Algeria, Laos and Cambodia.

“They are going to set a level of performance and economic value that others will have to beat if we want to provide [Internet] access to those markets,” Dankberg said.

China is a market of interest to U.S.-based Viasat for its yet-to-be-ordered ViaSat-3 Asia-Pacific satellite, but regulatory uncertainties have prevented the company from viewing China as an anchor market. Viasat has instead mentioned Australia as a potential anchor market for the future satellite promising at least a terabit of throughput.

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Viasat leases Hylas-4 capacity from Avanti

Digital rendering of Hylas-4, Avanti’s newest satellite. Credit: Avanti.

SINGAPORE — Viasat on June 25 acquired a quarter of the steerable capacity on Avanti’s newest satellite, Hylas-4, providing fresh Ka-band resources the company can use anywhere from the Americas across the Atlantic to the Middle East.

The two-year lease is for $10 million and will support international government applications, according to Ken Peterman, president of Viasat’s Government Systems division.

“We expect easy integration of the HYLAS 4 satellite capacity into our global network — enabling us to quickly bring capacity to where our customer demand exists,” Peterman said in a statement.

Avanti’s Hylas-4 has four steerable beams in addition to its primary 64 fixed spot beam payload. Viasat is leasing one of the beams.

Built by Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems), the satellite’s overall capacity ranges between 75 and 100 gigabit per second, Avanti’s former chief technology officer David Bestwick told SpaceNews in an April interview.

Hylas-4 launched April 5 on an Ariane 5 rocket.

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KT Sat eyes North Korean business • Outdoor Wi-Fi interfering with Globalstar constellation • Viasat buys British defense company

KT Sat employees monitor the satellite broadcasting system at the Kumsan Satellite Service Center on June 7. Credit: KT Sat

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TOP STORIES

South Korean satellite operator KT Sat hopes to launch service in North Korea as relations improve between the two countries. Following the April Inter-Korean Summit where representatives from both halves of the peninsula met, KT Sat created a special task force to support inter-Korean cooperation and expand exchanges in information and communication technology. “If things go well, KT Sat can provide telecommunications and broadcasting infrastructure in North Korea by using its satellites,” KT Sat CEO Hahn Won-Sic said. [KT SAT]

Globalstar says outdoor Wi-Fi devices that use the same spectrum as its satellites are creating a high level of interference with its low Earth orbit satellite system. The satellite operator told the FCC June 12 it has recently measured “a dramatic rise in the noise level,” causing Globalstar satellites to pick up unwanted Wi-Fi signals. “Globalstar will suffer severe harmful interference in the future if the current U-NII-1 ‘sharing’ regime is left unchanged,” the company told the FCC. [Globalstar]

Viasat bought a British defense company that deploys networks for the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence. Horsebridge Defence and Security will be part of Viasat UK, receiving immediate access to Viasat’s full communications portfolio, including satellite and Link 16 mobile networking solutions, cybersecurity products and information assurance capabilities. Viasat did not disclose the terms of the acquisition, and said it is still conducting a valuation analysis before determining the impact to earnings. [Viasat]

MORE STORIES

Federal regulators are weighing a new spectrum strategy that could require satellite operators to share frequencies with terrestrial applications. During a panel discussion Tuesday, regulators and industry officials said it’s increasingly difficult to reserve key spectrum bands for exclusive use given demands such as 5G broadband services. The FCC will vote in July on ways to open up 500 megahertz of C-band spectrum currently reserved for satellite use for 5G applications. [SpaceNews]

Angola will try again to launch a communications satellite as interest in space among African nations grows. Angosat-1, built by Russia, launched late last year on a Zenit rocket but failed shortly after reaching orbit. The government of Angola said last month that it will work with Russia to build and launch Angosat-2, a replacement, in 2020 at no additional cost to Angola. Angola is one of a number of African nations that, in recent years, have pursued satellite programs for communications or Earth observation. [SpaceNews]

Australian telco Telstra launched a satellite small cell product called 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell that it hopes will lead to co-funded connectivity projects with customers. The company hopes customers such as regional councils, mining companies, or private individuals will pay for installation costs. Telstra would build and maintain the cell. The local government of Winton, Australia is Telstra’s first customer for the product. [ZDNet]

Satellite operators are taking different approaches to servicing their spacecraft. Intelsat has signed contracts with SpaceLogistics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, to use Mission Extension Vehicles to extend the lives of Intelsat satellites. SES, though, is working with SSL to refuel an SES satellite using a servicing vehicle SSL plans to launch in 2021 under a partnership with DARPA. In both cases, the goal is to provide short-term extensions of satellite lifetimes, rather than indefinite ones. “The goal of life extension is not to take a 15-year satellite and make it last for 30,” said an SES executive. [SpaceNews]

Japan-based Kyushu Institute of Technology, a partner for startup InfoStellar, has become a test user of the company’s StellarStation platform. StellarStation lets smallsat operators use idle time on other operator’s ground stations to talk to their satellites. InfoStellar CEO Naomi Kurahara is a graduate of Kyutech.

Portugal’s largest telco, MEO, will begin Ultra-HD broadcasts of the World Cup June 14 using the the Hispasat 30W-5 satellite. MEO will broadcast all of Portugal’s matches, three games from the second round, three quarter finals, the semi-finals and the final in Ultra-HD. MEO is one of the early adopters of Ultra-HD, and has been broadcasting Hispasat’s all-Ultra-HD channel Hispasat 4K since 2016. [Rapid TV News]

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SES, with FCC’s blessing, says O3b constellation can reach global coverage

Artist’s rendition of SES Network’s O3b mPower constellation. Credit: SES.

WASHINGTON — SES says its constellation of medium Earth orbit O3b satellites now has the ability to expand from an equatorial system to a global system thanks to new approvals from U.S. telecom regulators.

On June 8, SES said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the Luxembourg company’s request to sell satellite connectivity services in the U.S. with 26 additional O3b satellites. Those satellites would operate in both inclined and equatorial orbits, expanding O3b’s coverage from its present 50 degrees out from the equator all the way to the poles.

With 16 satellites already in space, SES’s new authorization will permit it to operate a total of 42 satellites in medium Earth orbit. The new satellites will include four more first-generation satellites built by Thales Alenia Space for launch next year on an Arianespace Soyuz, 10 satellites in inclined orbits, and 12 satellites in equatorial orbits.

SES said the FCC approval enables the company to “triple its next-generation O3b mPOWER fleet” for which Boeing is building the first seven satellites in anticipation of a 2021 launch. Each O3b mPower satellite has more than 10 times the capacity of the first-generation satellites, according to SES. The first seven are estimated to provide some 10 terabits of total throughput.

SES, when announcing O3b mPower last September, said the first seven satellites would cover 80 percent of the Earth’s surface, but would not be limited to that coverage footprint.

“We designed O3b mPower as a system, not as a bunch of satellites, and not as limited to the first seven satellites that we launch,” Steve Collar, then CEO of SES Networks and now CEO of all of SES, said at a press conference. “O3b mPower will be and is conceived as being a fully global system.”

SES operates the O3b satellites in 8,000-kilometer orbits, roughly a fourth of the distance to Earth compared to geostationary satellites, enabling significantly lower signal lag.

To date all of SES’s O3b satellites operate in Ka-band, using high-throughput spot beams for broadband connectivity and network services. The FCC’s approval included rights to six satellites with higher frequency V-band — a region of spectrum satellite operators have been testing for commercial use. SES is the second company to obtain FCC approval for V-band satellite communications following Hughes Network Systems in March. Other companies including Boeing, Viasat, SpaceX, OneWeb, Theia Holdings and Telesat have also requested authorization for V-band satellite systems.

Industry reservations

SES’s application for new O3b satellites faced opposition from Iridium, Telesat and Viasat.

Iridium petitioned the FCC to deny SES’s application because it included access to some frequencies designated for mobile satellite services operators like Iridium.

Mobile satellite services operators and fixed satellite services operators are losing their distinction as operators of both kinds seek to provide data services to the same platforms such as aircraft, cruise ships and oil rigs.

The FCC sided with SES’s view that O3b’s mobile satellite services operations “have the same characteristics as its [fixed satellite services] operations.”

Canada-based Telesat asked the FCC to give priority to operators who have earlier spectrum filings with the International Telecommunication Union. Such prioritization would give Telesat, which is planning a low Earth orbit constellation of 117 satellites, first rights to certain Ka-band frequencies over SES. The FCC rejected Telesat’s proposal, but stipulated that SES comply with the commission’s spectrum-sharing rules.

Viasat voiced concern about O3b signal power levels and the risk they could interfere with geosynchronous satellites. The FCC said a newly adopted rule requires satellites outside of the geostationary arc not cause unacceptable interference to geostationary satellites providing fixed data or broadcast television services, and conditioned SES’s authorization on obeying this rule. SES’s O3b satellites must also adhere to any future power limitations the FCC — and to an unspecified extent, the ITU — sets on V-band, the agency said.

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SES, with FCC’s blessing, says O3b constellation can reach global coverage

Artist’s rendition of SES Network’s O3b mPower constellation. Credit: SES.

WASHINGTON — SES says its constellation of medium Earth orbit O3b satellites now has the ability to expand from an equatorial system to a global system thanks to new approvals from U.S. telecom regulators.

On June 8, SES said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the Luxembourg company’s request to sell satellite connectivity services in the U.S. with 26 additional O3b satellites. Those satellites would operate in both inclined and equatorial orbits, expanding O3b’s coverage from its present 50 degrees out from the equator all the way to the poles.

With 16 satellites already in space, SES’s new authorization will permit it to operate a total of 42 satellites in medium Earth orbit. The new satellites will include four more first-generation satellites built by Thales Alenia Space for launch next year on an Arianespace Soyuz, 10 satellites in inclined orbits, and 12 satellites in equatorial orbits.

SES said the FCC approval enables the company to “triple its next-generation O3b mPOWER fleet” for which Boeing is building the first seven satellites in anticipation of a 2021 launch. Each O3b mPower satellite has more than 10 times the capacity of the first-generation satellites, according to SES. The first seven are estimated to provide some 10 terabits of total throughput.

SES, when announcing O3b mPower last September, said the first seven satellites would cover 80 percent of the Earth’s surface, but would not be limited to that coverage footprint.

“We designed O3b mPower as a system, not as a bunch of satellites, and not as limited to the first seven satellites that we launch,” Steve Collar, then CEO of SES Networks and now CEO of all of SES, said at a press conference. “O3b mPower will be and is conceived as being a fully global system.”

SES operates the O3b satellites in 8,000-kilometer orbits, roughly a fourth of the distance to Earth compared to geostationary satellites, enabling significantly lower signal lag.

To date all of SES’s O3b satellites operate in Ka-band, using high-throughput spot beams for broadband connectivity and network services. The FCC’s approval included rights to six satellites with higher frequency V-band — a region of spectrum satellite operators have been testing for commercial use. SES is the second company to obtain FCC approval for V-band satellite communications following Hughes Network Systems in March. Other companies including Boeing, Viasat, SpaceX, OneWeb, Theia Holdings and Telesat have also requested authorization for V-band satellite systems.

Industry reservations

SES’s application for new O3b satellites faced opposition from Iridium, Telesat and Viasat.

Iridium petitioned the FCC to deny SES’s application because it included access to some frequencies designated for mobile satellite services operators like Iridium.

Mobile satellite services operators and fixed satellite services operators are losing their distinction as operators of both kinds seek to provide data services to the same platforms such as aircraft, cruise ships and oil rigs.

The FCC sided with SES’s view that O3b’s mobile satellite services operations “have the same characteristics as its [fixed satellite services] operations.”

Canada-based Telesat asked the FCC to give priority to operators who have earlier spectrum filings with the International Telecommunication Union. Such prioritization would give Telesat, which is planning a low Earth orbit constellation of 117 satellites, first rights to certain Ka-band frequencies over SES. The FCC rejected Telesat’s proposal, but stipulated that SES comply with the commission’s spectrum-sharing rules.

Viasat voiced concern about O3b signal power levels and the risk they could interfere with geosynchronous satellites. The FCC said a newly adopted rule requires satellites outside of the geostationary arc not cause unacceptable interference to geostationary satellites providing fixed data or broadcast television services, and conditioned SES’s authorization on obeying this rule. SES’s O3b satellites must also adhere to any future power limitations the FCC — and to an unspecified extent, the ITU — sets on V-band, the agency said.

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Arabsat Falcon Heavy mission slated for December-January timeframe

SpaceX’s inaugural Falcon Heavy lifts off Feb. 6. carrying a Tesla roadster. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy launch with a commercial satellite is scheduled to occur around the end of the year, according to customer Arabsat.

The Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based satellite operator told SpaceNews by email that the launch window for Arabsat 6A is between December and January.

SpaceX has one Falcon Heavy launch scheduled ahead of Arabsat-6A — the U.S. Air Force’s STP-2 technology demonstration mission.

An Air Force Space Command spokesperson told SpaceNews the STP-2 mission is currently scheduled for October. STP-2 was previously up for launch this month, but slipped “due to ongoing SpaceX qualification testing and engineering review by both SpaceX and the Air Force,” the spokesperson said.

Following STP-2 and Arabsat-6A, it is unclear when the next Falcon Heavy mission will occur. SpaceX still counts fleet operators Intelsat, Viasat and Inmarsat as Falcon Heavy customers, but none have assigned spacecraft to the rocket.

Viasat’s ViaSat-2 and Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network satellite — both originally slated for 2016 Falcon Heavy launches — launched on Arianespace Ariane 5 rockets last June. The operators switched launch providers as Falcon Heavy delays mounted.

Inmarsat spokesperson Jonathan Sinnatt said the London-based satellite operator still has an option for a Falcon Heavy launch.

Intelsat, SpaceX’s earliest Falcon Heavy customer, also has a launch option dating back to 2012, but no concrete details such as payload or date.

“We still have the Falcon Heavy agreement but no satellite has been assigned to the vehicle,” Intelsat spokesperson Jason Bates said.

Carlsbad, California-based Viasat, in response to SpaceNews inquiries, gave no firm commitment of a Falcon Heavy launch, though the company is still listed on the SpaceX manifest.

“Viasat had a launch contract on the Falcon Heavy for the ViaSat-2 satellite launch,” Viasat said in a statement. “We continue to talk with SpaceX as well as other launch providers for our future launches. As deals are solidified with our launch providers – we’ll update the market.”

SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy in February on a demonstration mission carrying a red Tesla roadster.

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Viasat preps big insurance claim for ViaSat-2 antenna anomaly

Artist’s depiction of the ViaSat-2 satellite. Credit: Viasat video still.

WASHINGTON — Viasat expects to file an insurance claim soon for an antenna glitch that reduced the performance of its newest satellite by around 15 percent, CEO Mark Dankberg said May 24.

The antenna malfunction on ViaSat-2, revealed in January some seven months after the satellite’s launch, specifically affects a set of antennas designed to target pockets of high-demand customers, he said. As a result, some areas are already experiencing bandwidth shortages, he said.

The Boeing-built ViaSat-2 has an estimated maximum capacity of 260 Gbps, revised down from 300 Gbps because of the malfunction. An accelerated activation schedule for ViaSat-2 ground stations and some reprogramming of the satellite has mitigated the impact, Dankberg said.

Dankberg said Carlsbad, California-based Viasat would submit a proof of loss within the next month and does not expect to receive any of the insurance money before next quarter at the earliest.

“It’s a big claim and we’ve not been through the process before,” he said.

Modeling of the satellite’s performance has predicted how different antenna configurations affect the corresponding beams, he said. ViaSat-2 still has contiguous coverage of North America and nearby regions, he said, but with only 98 to 99 percent of its beams. The last 1 to 2 percent of beams Viasat may keep permanently shut off, he said.

Dankberg said Viasat does not have a final estimate of ViaSat-2’s total capacity, noting that ViaSat-1 was estimated to be a 100 Gbps satellite, but ultimately reached 140 Gbps.

Despite the antenna issue, Dankberg said Viasat still considers ViaSat-2 to be “the most capable broadband satellite ever.”

Ramping ViaSat-2 business

After launching ViaSat-2 service late last year, Viasat is loading customers in its three main business areas of aviation, government and consumer broadband onto the satellite. Compared to ViaSat-1, which was roughly 90 percent consumer broadband, Dankberg said ViaSat-2’s largest customer set will likely be aviation, with inflight connectivity accounting for around half its capacity.

Commercial aircraft using Viasat connectivity and hardware numbered 635 as of March 31. Dankberg said that number could top 1,000 by the end of next March. Viasat-connected aircraft increased by 46 over the past three months, which was a larger increase than the past nine months combined, he said.

“The combination of equipment sales and new inflight connectivity service revenues are anticipated to be the greatest contributor to year-over-year revenue growth,” Dankberg said.

Government services, an area of strength for Viasat despite being sluggish for most operators, increased 13 percent to $772 million for the company’s fiscal 2018, which concluded March 31. Viasat Chief Financial Officer Shawn Duffy said the company will further increase research and development spending on government products with a heavy focus on mobile platforms.

Consumer broadband shifts

Viasat shed 83,000 consumer broadband subscribers from last fiscal year, tallying 576,000 overall. Customers choosing more expensive service plans covered the loss, however, according to Viasat.

Dankberg said Viasat is now able to offer services plans of 100 Mbps with ViaSat-2. New subscribers to the higher-throughput plans on ViaSat-2 should outpace losses on ViaSat-1, Dankberg said.

Regarding Europe, Dankberg didn’t express the same frustration as Viasat’s joint venture partner Eutelsat of Paris on consumer broadband market strategies. Earlier this month, Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer expressed disappointment with RetailCo, a direct-to-consumer broadband business Viasat leads using Eutelsat’s KA-SAT satellite. Belmer blamed a nearly 8 percent decline in Eutelsat’s fixed broadband business on RetailCo and used it as an example of why Eutelsat thinks a wholesale model is a better approach. Dankberg dismissed this reasoning.

“We don’t think that’s the best long-term approach,” Dankberg said of the wholesale model. Viasat is happy with RetailCo’s progress, he added.

“Eutelsat’s existing wholesale approach has basically sold out most of their bandwidth in what are the easiest markets,” he said. “The objective for [RetailCo] was to go into these markets that hadn’t sold in some period of time. Those were clearly the most difficult markets.”

A second joint venture run by Eutelsat is focused on wholesale capacity leases.

Eutelsat ditched an investment in a 1 Tbps ViaSat-3 satellite for Europe, the Middle East and Africa in favor of a solo satellite from Thales Alenia Space that has 500 Gbps concentrated over Europe. Dankberg said Viasat will likely find other partners for its European broadband initiatives, but didn’t give specifics. ViaSat-3 EMEA is still on track for service six months after ViaSat-3 Americas, which starts service in 2020. Viasat has a launch contract for an Ariane 5 mission with an unspecified ViaSat-3 satellite in late 2019 or early 2020, and has yet to announce other launch arrangements. 

Viasat reported full-year revenue of $1.6 billion and a net income of $23.8 million.

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Viasat to start Asia-Pacific ViaSat-3 satellite this year

Designing the third ViaSat-3 satellite has been trickier than the first two, according to Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, but the company is “converging on the right configuration.” Credit: Viasat.

WASHINGTON — Satellite operator Viasat is in discussions with manufacturers to procure its third high-capacity ViaSat-3 satellite, CEO Mark Dankberg said May 24.

The satellite, which Viasat intends to order this year, will serve the Asia-Pacific region. Dankberg said designing such a satellite presents more difficult regulatory and geographic coverage challenges than the two ViaSat-3 satellites already under construction. One of those satellites, ViaSat-3 Americas, will serve North and South America. The other, ViaSat-3 EMEA, will serve Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Viasat’s budget is “a little tighter” after Eutelsat’s surprise decision last month to forgo splitting the cost of the $650 million ViaSat-3 EMEA satellite, “but it’s manageable,” Dankberg said during an earnings call. 

The third ViaSat-3 satellite will complete Carlsbad, California-based Viasat’s quest for global Ka-band coverage with a trio of broadband satellites each capable of at least a terabit of capacity.

“We are negotiating with the spacecraft manufacturers to get a good deal on that,” Dankberg said of ViaSat-3 Asia Pacific. “I think there is a pretty good shot we will be able to announce something probably in the next couple of quarters.”

Viasat ordered the first two ViaSat-3 satellites from Boeing in early 2016, but full construction only started in September. Viasat is more involved in building the satellites than a typical operator, taking a lead role in payload development while relying on Boeing for the satellite platform.

Dankberg said the Asia-Pacific satellite order is trailing two years behind ViaSat-3 Americas and ViaSat-3 EMEA because of the difficulty in designing a coverage footprint. In a March interview, Dankberg said the challenge in preparing Viasat’s Asia-Pacific satellite has been the absence of a sure-fire anchor market on which to build the rest of the business case. ViaSat-3 Americas has the United States while ViaSat-3 EMEA has Western Europe, he said. Asia’s two largest markets, China and India, present formidable regulatory challenges to foreign operators, preventing either from serving as a similarly reliable backstop.

“What we are really trying to do is come up with a different configuration that still gives us the whole visible Earth coverage that will complete our global coverage, but gives us a different anchor market that we can count on,” he told SpaceNews. “One that is leading is the mobility market, so aeronautical and government mobility. We think we will ultimately have a focus on some combination of Australia and South East Asia.”

Viasat already has a presence in Australia with NBN, the government-run telco that operates the twin Sky Muster high-throughput satellites for broadband in rural parts of the country. NBN is letting Viasat use the Ka-band satellites to provide inflight Wi-Fi to Qantas Airways.

NBN said last year amid customer complaints about network congestion and slow speeds that it was looking into adding a third satellite and would evaluate what role, if any, a terabit-per-second spacecraft could play in its network evolution plans. An NBN official told SpaceNews in February it has no need for a third satellite.

During the May 24 earnings call, Dankberg said Viasat is talking to prospective partners, but the company’s default plan for ViaSat-3 Asia Pacific is to press forward by itself.

Viasat has been “converging on the right configuration” for ViaSat-3 Asia Pacific’s final design. “We also have some technical improvements that will increase the capacity pretty meaningfully from what we were able to do with the first two,” he said.

Dankberg didn’t give a date for when Viasat-3 Asia Pacific would launch or enter service. ViaSat-3 Americas is scheduled to start service in the second half of 2020, followed by ViaSat-3 EMEA six months later, he said.

Viasat has a launch contract with Arianespace for an unspecified ViaSat-3 mission on an Ariane 5 rocket, and is still listed on the SpaceX manifest as a Falcon Heavy customer. The ViaSat-2 spacecraft launched last year by an Ariane 5 was originally slated for Falcon Heavy. SpaceX’s manifest doesn’t list what satellite Viasat will launch with Falcon Heavy, or when.

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Eutelsat pivots for competition with Viasat on European broadband

Europe at night as photographed by Astronaut Tim Peake in 2016. Credit: Credits ESA/NASA

WASHINGTON — Eutelsat on May 14 said it is taking steps to secure a foothold in the European broadband market after last month’s decision to forgo jointly funding a satellite with Viasat turned the two companies into direct competitors.

Eutelsat also stands to retain customers from one of its two joint ventures with Carlsbad, California-based Viasat if the operators’ frayed relationship gets too threadbare to continue, according to Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer.

In a quarterly earnings call with analysts, Belmer said the Paris-based operator is poised to redirect some of the beams on its upcoming Konnect satellite from Africa to Europe when the satellite formerly known as the African Broadband Satellite enters service in 2020.

The temporary repurposing of beams on the 75-gigabits-per-second satellite would warm up the market for Eutelsat in advance of its more powerful 500-Gbps Konnect VHTS (or Very High Throughput Satellite) in 2021, he said. Thales Alenia Space is building both Konnect and Konnect VHTS.

Belmer defended Eutelsat’s decision not to co-finance the ViaSat-3 EMEA satellite, designed to cover Europe, the Middle East and Africa with 1 terabit per second of total capacity. The abrupt change-of-course startled analysts, which voiced skepticism that the European market can support two large satellite broadband operators like the U.S. market does.

“We estimate that the market size is 5 million homes that will not be served by terrestrial infrastructure by 2030, which leaves more than enough room for two large operators in Europe,” Belmer said. “We will be the first one. It doesn’t mean that there is not room enough for a second player.”

Viasat affirmed it will continue with ViaSat-3 EMEA, but didn’t say when the satellite will launch. Previous Viasat statements have ViaSat-3 EMEA following six months behind ViaSat-3 Americas, which is expected to launch in the second half of 2020. That puts ViaSat-3 EMEA launching in 2021, the same year as Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS.

JV Disappointment

Belmer said Eutelsat is underwhelmed with the progress of its RetailCo joint venture with Viasat and is refocusing Eutelsat’s efforts on a wholesale business model.

Eutelsat and Viasat have been operating two joint ventures for more than a year, with Eutelsat owning 51 percent of the wholesale InfraCo company and Viasat owning 51 percent of the direct-to-consumer RetailCo company. Eutelsat’s view is that the direct-to-consumer approach “doesn’t make as much sense in Europe as it makes in the U.S. because the market situations, the competitive landscape, the consumer behaviors are very different from one country to another in Europe,” Belmer said.

“What we think is that it makes more sense to join forces with strong, powerful, experienced distributors in each European country,” he said.

Eutelsat, in announcing the Konnect VHTS satellite, revealed the satellite already had European telco heavyweights Orange and Thales committed to multiyear capacity leases collectively worth hundreds of millions of euros. Orange will market the capacity to consumers while Thales will focus on government customers. Belmer said Eutelsat wasn’t able to attract customer commitments of that size without such a powerful satellite, but now that it can, Eutelsat would strongly prefer to lean on their specialized expertise in their markets.

Belmer said the “vast majority” of KA-SAT subscribers use the satellite through Eutelsat InfraCo distributors, “meaning that those subscribers, they cannot be migrated by Viasat” in the event of a joint venture fallout. Eutelsat and Viasat’s joint ventures use the 90-plus Gbps KA-SAT broadband satellite launched in 2010. Viasat paid Eutelsat 132.5 million euros ($162 million) for a 49 percent stake in the satellite.

Belmer blamed a 7.7 percent annual decline in Eutelsat’s fixed-broadband revenue, which comes heavily from KA-SAT, partly on the lack of success of the RetailCo business. Eutelsat recorded 21.5 million euros in fixed-broadband revenue for the three months ended March 31. Viasat can pull RetailCo subscribers over to ViaSat-3 EMEA, Belmer said. He downplayed the issue, however, saying only a small number of households receive broadband through RetailCo today.

Belmer said a roaming agreement between ViaSat-2 and KA-SAT for aircraft flying transatlantic routes remains in place and that Eutelsat has no intentions of changing that agreement when ViaSat-3 EMEA enters service.

“Other Revenues” Scare

Eutelsat reported 337 million euros in quarterly revenues, down 3.3 percent year-over-year, with the biggest reason for the decline coming from an oft-overlooked business area simply referred to as “Other Revenues.”

Belmer said Other Revenues consists of everything “not related to capacity sales,” including termination fees, engineering fees and frequency consulting services for other operators. They are extremely difficult to predict, he said.

“Even though we are working on quite a substantial pipeline of initiatives to generate Other Revenues in line with our objectives [and] in line with our guidance, it’s still uncertain at this point in time that we will make it,” he said.

Other Revenues totaled just 100,000 euros last quarter, down from  7.5 million for the same period last year.

If Other Revenues don’t rebound, it could result in a 3.5 percent drop in annual revenues compared to last year, Belmer said. That would throw off Eutelsat’s trajectory for full-year revenues between 1 and 2 percent below last year as the company seeks a “slight” return to growth in 2019.  

Eutelsat’s core business verticals remained stable, with video broadcasts, the operator’s largest segment comprising 62 percent of revenue, growing 0.2 percent on a quarterly basis. Eutelsat’s backlog, which is 83 percent video applications customers, stood at 4.6 billion euros, down from 4.7 billion last quarter.

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Eutelsat takes French telecom regulator to court over Inmarsat’s EAN license

France’s Council of State, the nation’s highest administrative jurisdiction and final arbiter of cases relating to executive power, local authorities, independent public authorities, public administration agencies or any other agency invested with public authority. Credit: Council of State

WASHINGTON — Continuing its country-by-country fight against Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network, French satellite fleet operator Eutelsat is returning to its home country regulator to challenge Inmarsat’s recently granted authorization.

Eutelsat on April 25 initiated proceedings with France’s Conseil d’État (Council of State), the nation’s highest court focused on government policies, to contest French telecom regulator Arcep’s authorization of Inmarsat’s ground-based antennas for inflight connectivity.

“Eutelsat contests the legality of this decision both in terms of substance and form,” spokeswoman Marie-Sophie Ecuer told SpaceNews in an April 26 statement. “Eutelsat firmly believes that the public interest is not served by this decision since the service offered by Inmarsat to airlines in no way contributes to combat the digital divide in France or more broadly in Europe. Yet this was the regulatory goal underpinning the decision to grant the license to Inmarsat.”

Arcep approved Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network in February, allowing the hybrid system of satellite and cellular connectivity to provide internet access to aircraft flying over France. Inmarsat, with partner Deutsche Telekom of Germany, finished installing the network’s 300 LTE towers across all 28 European Union member states plus Switzerland and Norway earlier this year. EAN uses those towers along with an S-band satellite called Inmarsat S EAN launched last June to deliver 75 Mbps connections to aircraft.

Eutelsat and Carlsbad, California-based Viasat have each challenged Inmarsat’s use of a license from the European Commission — the executive arm of the European Union — claiming that Inmarsat is using a mobile satellite services (MSS) license for a system that is predominantly cellular in nature. Having been unsuccessful in persuading the European Commission, Eutelsat and Viasat have instead gone nation to nation to disrupt EAN.

In March, Viasat won a solo effort in Belgium to overturn Inmarsat’s EAN license granted by the nation’s telecom regulator IBPT.

That ruling, Ecuer said, “confirms our interpretation of European regulations.”

Inmarsat has downplayed Eutelsat’s and Viasat’s opposition as a last-ditch effort to discredit a system with widespread European regulatory approval.

“Inmarsat is delivering the EAN system in accordance with the MSS S-band framework established by the European Institutions and implemented by the national regulatory authorities,” Inmarsat said in an April 26 statement to SpaceNews. “We consider the action being taken by Eutelsat to be entirely without merit.”

“Inmarsat maintains that these claims are intended solely to undermine our legitimate business interests, while strengthening their own competitive position in the tendering processes that are currently underway with European airlines.

“EAN is ready for commercial service with both the satellite and complementary ground network fully tested,” the company added.

Viasat and Eutelsat are partners on inflight connectivity. Viasat is a 49-percent owner of Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat broadband satellite over Europe, and Viasat’s ViaSat-2 satellite has coverage that extends from North America to Europe for unbroken coverage of popular North Atlantic transcontinental flight paths.

Viasat and Eutelsat’s partnership is less robust than it was in the past, however. Three weeks ago, Eutelsat chose to forgo an investment in a powerful 1-terabit satellite Viasat planned for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and instead purchased its own 500-Gbps satellite from Thales Alenia Space with a focus exclusively on Europe.

Ecuer declined to comment on whether Viasat is involved in Eutelsat’s Arcep legal battle. Viasat spokeswoman Chris Phillips did not respond by press time to SpaceNews inquiries.

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Wall Street analysts balk at Viasat-Eutelsat split on European broadband

Eutelsat is poised to tackle European broadband business opportunities without ViaSat-3, a move that took many by surprise. From left to right: Patrice Caine, Thales CEO, French Minister Delphine Gény-Stephann, Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer, French Minister Julien Denormandie, and Orange CEO Stéphane Richard. Credit: Eutelsat.

WASHINGTON — Eutelsat’s decision to scrap an investment in Viasat’s ViaSat-3 system in favor of a fully-owned satellite means the two companies will now be competitors in the European broadband market — a stance analysts view as bad for both operators.

Eutelsat on April 5 said it no longer intends to co-finance the second ViaSat-3 satellite, which Boeing is already building to bring massive amounts of capacity to Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The Paris-based operator will instead tap Thales Alenia Space to build Konnect VHTS, a so-called Very High Throughput Satellite that will focus solely on Europe. 

“This is a net negative for all parties, in our view,” Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Andrew Spinola wrote in an April 5 research note to clients. “We believe the two companies were stronger together and the European market will be less attractive with two competitors instead of one.”

Carlsbad, California-based Viasat has over the past few years made satellite investments that leveraged a growing partnership with Eutelsat. The operator’s ViaSat-2 satellite, launched last summer, has a footprint that bridges aircraft travelling northern routes between the U.S., Canada and Europe with coverage that hands off to Eutelsat’s KA-SAT. Last year, when Viasat and Eutelsat created a joint venture to tackle European broadband together, the deal included a 132.5 million euro investment ($162 million) by Viasat for a 49 percent stake in KA-SAT.

A larger, reciprocal investment by Eutelsat covering half of the ViaSat-3 EMEA satellite’s $600 million-plus pricetag was planned, but lacked a binding agreement. Negotiations dragged on into this year. Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg told SpaceNews in March that determining which operator would claim revenues from respective customers was at the crux of the debate. “It’s just details,” he said. “It’s not like there are irreconcilable issues that we are beating each other up over.”

Eutelsat spokeswoman Marie-Sophie Ecuer said Eutelsat’s decision to order an all-electric satellite from Thales Alenia Space rather than invest in ViaSat-3 EMEA has “no direct impact” on the broader Viasat joint venture.

Satellite industry analysts worry the European market is too small for two operators to spar over with souped-up satellites. “In our view, the satellite industry needs consolidation, rather than additional capacity coming online,” Louie DiPalma, an analyst at WIlliam Blair, wrote in an April 6 research note.

Viasat issued a statement April 6 saying ViaSat-3 EMEA remains “well underway and on track.”

“[Viasat] believes there is significant interest in the ViaSat-3 program from prospective regional partners, as ViaSat-3 is expected to be the highest capacity communications satellite system in the world when it launches,” Viasat President and COO Rick Baldridge said in the statement.

Baldridge didn’t say when ViaSat-3 EMEA will launch, though Viasat has said it would follow within six months to a year of the ViaSat-3 Americas satellite. Viasat has a contract with Arianespace to launch a ViaSat-3 satellite in the second half of 2020, but hasn’t specified which satellite will use the launch. Eutelsat hasn’t announced a launch provider for Konnect VHTS, but said the satellite will be in orbit in 2021.

The total capacity of ViaSat-3 EMEA should crest 1 terabit per second, Baldridge said, delivering internet access to households, aircraft, boats, businesses and governments. Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS, in contrast, promises half the capacity at 500 Gbps, but is substantially more concentrated with coverage just over Europe.

Which satellite will offer better performance will depend on more than just raw throughput. Each is already touting the flexibility of their satellites, meaning they will be able to adjust beam characteristics like shape, location and power to respond to changes in customer demand.

Eutelsat’s pullout of the ViaSat-3 EMEA investment caught some analysts by surprise.

“[I]n recent months it seemed the parties were moving closer to an agreement,” Ric Prentiss, an analyst at Raymond James wrote in an April 6 research note.“As a result, Eutelsat’s announcement of its commitment to build a new satellite and exit from the negotiations with [Viasat] were very surprising … the decision means risks around industry structure and competition have increased.” 

Eutelsat announced telecom heavyweights Orange and Thales as anchor customers for Konnect VHTS, acquiring an appreciable but unquantified amount of capacity for multiple years. But analysts are divided on whether Orange and Thales can outweigh Viasat.

“Viasat will have greater financial and operational risk in Europe without Eutelsat and we think Viasat was the stronger partner for Eutelsat than Orange/Thales,” Wells Fargo’s Spinola wrote. 

Jefferies Equity Analyst Giles Thorne wrote April 6 that capacity commitments from Orange and Thales appear “to be far longer than the standard 3-5 years,” for satellite broadband contracts, and “that the Thales option is superior to V-3 financially, operationally and technically.” He cautioned that “Eutelsat’s track record of execution in consumer broadband is poor,” however.

When launched at the end of 2010, Eutelsat expected its KA-SAT broadband satellite to fill up quickly, but the ramp up was appreciably slower than expected.

“Although we are surprised that the ViaSat-3 partnership fell through, there was definitely writing on the wall,” DiPalma wrote. “ViaSat has indicated it has had contingency plans if the EutelSat partnership fell through. While ViaSat has not disclosed what those contingency plans are, we would not be surprised if it announced them very soon.”

Spinola in an April 6 follow-up note, wrote that Viasat has an $800 million undrawn revolving credit line, and “would most likely consider a term loan for any future capital needs.”

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Eutelsat ditches ViaSat-3 investment, buys half-terabit satellite from Thales Alenia Space

Artist’s rendition of Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS satellite. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

WASHINGTON — Global fleet operator Eutelsat, after months of protracted negotiations with partner Viasat, on April 5 said it would go it alone on a powerful new satellite instead of investing in Viasat’s second ViaSat-3 satellite.

Thales Alenia Space is instead building a “VHTS” or Very High Throughput Satellite for Eutelsat called Konnect VHTS, bringing 500 Gigabits-per-second of Ka-band capacity to European markets. The European manufacturer is also building the accompanying ground segment.

Eutelsat’s decision to forgo an investment in a 1 terabit-per-second ViaSat-3 satellite with coverage of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), comes after months of back and forth discussions with Carlsbad, California-based Viasat meant to iron out the details of a broadband joint venture the two operators started last year. Rodolphe Belmer, Eutelsat’s CEO, said in October that arduous but good-spirited negotiations were continuing over the framework of the ViaSat-3 EMEA satellite. Those negotiations were expected to conclude last year, but dragged on into this year. Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg told SpaceNews in March that determining which operator would claim revenues from respective customers was at the crux of the debate.

It is not immediately clear what the full impact Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS purchase will have on the joint venture. Eutelsat was co-financing ViaSat-3 EMEA, having earmarked a 132.5 million euro ($162 million) investment Viasat made to obtain a 49 percent stake in Eutelsat’s seven-year-old KA-SAT broadband satellite. Eutelsat was going to reinvest that money back into ViaSat-3 EMEA, but that is no longer the case.

Eutelsat spokeswoman Marie-Sophie Ecuer told SpaceNews the joint venture “will continue to operate on KA-SAT for the foreseeable future.”

“Eutelsat has a right to make the Konnect VHTS investment outside of the joint venture, so there is no direct impact on the Viasat joint venture,” she said.

Eutelsat said Konnect VHTS will have “the most powerful on-board digital processor ever put in orbit, offering capacity allocation flexibility, optimal spectrum use, and progressive ground network deployment.” Though only half the capacity of a ViaSat-3 satellite, Konnect VHTS is more geographically concentrated, focusing only on Europe instead of a third of the planet.

Konnect VHTS is still one of the highest capacity satellites ever announced, on par with Hughes’ 500-Gbps Jupiter-3 satellite Space Systems Loral is building for broadband in North America. The Konnect VHTS satellite has a mass of 6,300 kilograms, and is scheduled to enter service in 2021. Eutelsat has not yet announced a launch provider for the satellite.

In a statement, Thales CEO Patrice Caine said Konnect VHTS will use an all-electric Spacebus NEO platform, leveraging investments from the European Space Agency, the French space agency CNES and France’s “Programme d’Investissements d’Avenir,” or “Investments for the Future Program.”

Two anchor customers, French telecom giant Orange and Thales’ connectivity division both agreed to multiyear capacity distribution contracts with the satellite. Orange will focus on fixed broadband in European countries where it has a retail presence, and Thales will serve the government market. Ecuer said the contracts derisk the satellite and are collectively worth “several hundred million euros.”

Eutelsat is adding substantial new capacity to the EMEA region through a lease on YahSat’s Al Yah 3 satellite, which is expected to reach its orbital slot in June. Another Eutelsat satellite under construction by Thales Alenia Space, the Africa Broadband Satellite (which Eutelsat is rebranding as “Konnect”), is scheduled to launch in 2019 with 75 Gbps of capacity distributed through 65 spot beams.

“High-speed broadband will be a critical driver of Eutelsat’s growth from 2020 onwards. Over the next decade, VHTS satellites will bring enough capacity to serve high speed internet and in-flight connectivity markets at scale, offering fiber-like services both in terms of price and speed,” Belmer said in a statement.

Eutelsat said the Konnect VHTS satellite fits within the company’s annual capital expenditure plan of 420 million euros.

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Belgian court punches hole in Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network

One of Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom’s LTE towers for the European Aviation Network. Credit: Inmarsat

WASHINGTON — A Belgian court revoked approval for Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network in the country after fleet operator Viasat challenged the legality of its authorization.

The Market Court of the Brussels Court of Appeal on March 14 said it has annulled the Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications (BIPT) approval of Inmarsat’s use of terrestrial towers for the network, designed to provide Wi-Fi inflight for aircraft over Europe. The reversal threatens to rip a hole, albeit a small one, in the network Inmarsat completed just last month.

Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network, or EAN, consists of an S-band satellite payload launched last June and a “complementary ground component,” or CGC, of 300 cellular towers built across 28 European Union member states plus Switzerland and Norway by partner Deutsche Telekom. Six CGC towers cover Belgium.

The court wrote March 14 that it “Annuls the decision of the Council of BIPT of 29 June 2016 ‘concerning Inmarsat Ventures Ltd’s rights to use complementary ground components.’”

Carlsbad, California-based Viasat and Paris-based fleet operator Eutelsat have challenged Inmarsat’s use of a European Commission S-band spectrum license, arguing that what should be a predominantly satellite system supported by ground towers is in fact the opposite — a terrestrial connectivity system that uses a satellite component to justify its existence. Inmarsat disagrees. 

Seeking to upend Inmarsat’s network, Viasat and Eutelsat have chosen to fight on a country-by-country basis, blotting out patches of the EAN where nations side with their reasoning.

Viasat led the legal challenge alone in Belgium. In a March 20 statement provided to SpaceNews, the company praised Belgium’s decision.

“This ruling adds another major connectivity dead-zone to the EAN in a highly-trafficked EU air corridor, as the Irish regulator, ComReg, has publicly stated an investigation of the EAN is ongoing and has yet to issue a CGC license to Inmarsat,” Viasat said. “We applaud Belgium and those Member States that have taken a rational look at the legality of the EAN. Upholding the law is critical to maintaining fairness and ensuring robust competition that will result in the best possible consumer experience.”

Eutelsat, though not involved in the Belgium case, told SpaceNews the decision “confirms our understanding that the service must be predominantly delivered through a satellite component.”

“We have always considered that the EAN does not fulfill the conditions of a mobile satellite system as defined by European regulations and that decision confirms our analysis,” Eutelsat said.

Inmarsat hasn’t yet begun service with EAN, which has London-based International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, as its inaugural customer. Inmarsat told SpaceNews March 21 that the EAN remains on track, and it doesn’t view the Belgian court’s decision as a showstopper.

“The decision by the Belgian judge was made purely on procedural grounds,” Inmarsat said. “It was due to the Belgian regulator not confirming in its decision that the complementary ground network complies with certain conditions within the EC framework.

“The complementary ground network does comply with these conditions and this has been confirmed by other regulators including Ofcom in the UK and [Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes] in France.

“We are confident that the regulator will address the procedural issues raised and will expedite the reissuance of the authorisation.”

Inmarsat plans to begin service with the EAN during the first half of this year.

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Viasat taps into Brazilian market with Telebras pact

Brazil’s SGDC-1 satellite covers all of Brazil in Ka-band and has an X-band payload for military use. Credit: Telebras

WASHINGTON — Fleet operator Viasat will soon challenge Hughes, Eutelsat, Hispasat, and others with satellite broadband businesses in Brazil thanks to a new agreement that will let the Carlsbad, California company use capacity on a Brazilian satellite.

State-run Brazilian telecom company Telebras agreed to let Viasat use Ka-band capacity on the Geostationary Satellite for Defense and Strategic Communications, SGDC-1, for consumer broadband, corporate networks and inflight connectivity.

Viasat said Feb. 26 that it will provide a ground network for the satellite that will pave the way for service rollout in April.

SGDC is a large satellite carrying seven X-band transponders for the Brazilian ministry of defense and 50 Ka-band transponders for Telebras to connect unreached and underserved regions of the country. European launch provider Arianespace launched the satellite in May.

With SGDC, Viasat is reaching further down into Latin America. Viasat’s newest satellite, Viasat-2, extended the operator’s coverage from mainly the U.S. to include Mexico and Central America down to the edge of Colombia. The company is growing its presence across North and South America in preparation for the first Viasat-3 very-high-throughput satellite, which will cover both continents when it enters service in 2020 or 2021.

While several fleet operators have capacity over Brazil, the Viasat-Telebras tie-up is a visible challenge to Hughes of Germantown, Maryland. Hughes, Viasat’s main competitor in the U.S. consumer broadband market, chose Brazil as its first international expansion of that business in 2016 using high-throughput capacity on Eutelsat’s 65 West A satellite. Hughes’ next-generation broadband satellite, Jupiter-3, is the company’s answer to ViaSat-3, and will also cover the Americas after launching in 2021.

Keven Lippert, Viasat’s president of broadband services, told SpaceNews by email Feb. 26 that Viasat and Telebras are splitting customer groups as part of the Brazilian Government’s National Broadband Program (Programa Nacional de Banda Larga, or PNBL), a federal initiative started in 2010 to bring internet access all of Brazil, especially remote and rural regions that often lack terrestrial infrastructure such as fiber.

Telebras will bring satellite connectivity to government entities such as schools and hospitals, while Viasat provides satellite-enabled Wi-Fi hotspot services to residential communities, enterprise and commercial aviation markets, he said. Lippert declined to say how much of SGDC’s 58-Gbps of capacity Viasat will be able to use.  He said Viasat will supply satellite dishes for its SGDC customers in Brazil.

Telebras projects the Viasat arrangement can generate over $1 billion over the next 10 years for the publicly run company.

Lippert said SGDC agreement “is a success-based revenue-share model.” He declined to say how much revenue that might mean for Viasat.

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Viasat says ViaSat-2 business plan intact despite antenna glitch

“We didn’t base our business plans on perfection. We had margins in there for problems,” Mark Dankberg, ViaSat’s chairman and CEO, said of ViaSat-2 after discovering a performance-inhibiting antenna problem.

WASHINGTON — Fleet operator Viasat’s newest satellite could lose around 15 percent of its intended throughput due to an antenna problem discovered after launch.

Mark Dankberg, Viasat’s Chairman and CEO, told investors Feb. 8 that the 6,400-kilogram ViaSat-2 satellite launched in June on an Ariane 5 rocket will likely have a maximum capacity of 260 gigabits per second, rather than 300 Gbps or more as initially hoped.

Viasat and satellite manufacturer Boeing are continuing to work on solutions to the antenna problem, Dankberg said, but cannot conclude whether any prospective fixes will help or hinder the satellite’s performance. Insurers are involved to determine the impact, which could entitle Viasat to a partial-loss claim, he said.

Dankberg said ViaSat-2 will still be a very capable satellite regardless of whether the handicap can be fixed. Other parts of the ViaSat-2 system, like its ground network, are performing better than expected, he said, mitigating the impact of the antenna malfunction.

“We didn’t base our business plans on perfection,” he said. “We had margins in there for problems.”

ViaSat-2 is readying for service now and will be nationwide over the United States by the end of February, he said. Once fully active, the satellite will cover most of North America, along with the Caribbean and a swath of the North Atlantic Ocean out to the United Kingdom.

A different customer spread

Between 90 and 95 percent of the capacity on Viasat’s older fleet — ViaSat-1, WildBlue-1 and broadband offered through Telesat’s Anik-F2 satellite — is dedicated to residential internet access for homes across the United States and Canada. Dankberg said residential broadband subscribers will form an appreciably smaller chunk of ViaSat-2 customers, though he didn’t give a percentage.

Aviation and government connectivity are expected to take a larger role on ViaSat-2. Viasat’s government revenue grew 9 percent year over year to $182 million for the three months ended Dec. 31, and reached a backlog of $702 million, forming the majority of Viasat’s $1.1 billion total business backlog. That backlog doesn’t include a $350 million Defense Department indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract won last year for satellite and terrestrial telecommunications services and equipment.

Dankberg said the U.S. government’s use of stop-gap spending measures, known as continuing resolutions, made it difficult to contract for new services or enter discussions with different branches of the federal government. He nonetheless highlighted the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T communications system, which has come under scrutiny for being overly costly and susceptible to security weaknesses, as an area Viasat would like to disrupt.

“It has very large terminals and not a lot of bandwidth,” Dankberg said of WIN-T. “It’s a really good example application for us to go into.”

In aviation, 589 commercial aircraft were using Viasat connectivity systems as of as of Dec. 31, and 912 were in backlog. A Feb. 8 contract with United Airlines for another 70 aircraft adds to that tally. Inflight connectivity could triple in size as a business segment based on Viasat’s current backlog, Dankberg said.

French satellite operator Eutelsat and Viasat are continuing their legal challenge to Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network (EAN), arguing that the system, which pairs an air-to-ground network of cell towers with an S-band satellite payload, violates the spectrum license Inmarsat received from the European Commission. London-based Inmarsat and its terrestrial telecom partner Deutsche Telekom of Germany said Feb. 5 that EAN reached completion and will start service in the first half of this year.

Not dissuaded by EAN’s progress, Dankberg said Viasat believes “something like 99-percent of the bandwidth that’s delivered to passengers” will come from the 300-tower ground network, with the S-band satellite in place as little more than an excuse to use satellite spectrum for a terrestrial network.  

“The [license] intent was that the ground network augment the satellite, not that it basically be the network, with the satellite providing a tiny part,” he said. “That’s our position. I think it will be resolved on the merits of the argument, probably on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis.”

Inmarsat describes Viasat and Eutelsat’s claims as a flawed, last-ditch attempt to halt the now-completed network.

ViaSat-3 service start in 2020 or 2021

The first of Viasat’s trio of 1-terabit-per-second-throughput ViaSat-3 satellites should enter commercial service in 2020 or 2021, Dankberg said. Viasat hopes to have used up most to all of the bandwidth on ViaSat-2 by the time the first ViaSat-3 launches service, he said.

ViaSat-3’s global coverage is intended to grow Viasat into a worldwide broadband services provider, though only two have been ordered so far, the first for the Americas, and the second for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Boeing is building the first two ViaSat-3 spacecraft, but Viasat is handling large parts of the construction itself, including crafting the payloads. Shawn Duffy, Viasat’s chief financial officer, said research and development expenses are coming down for ViaSat-3 as the program transitions to payload production.

Now that ViaSat-3 is transitioning from prototyping and engineering tests to production of flight hardware, Dankberg said integrating the payloads into the satellite bus will be the “largest source of uncertainty” in ViaSat-3’s schedule.

“That’s still ahead of us, and that’s where we will really figure out what the deployment schedule is,” he said.

Dankberg added that Viasat is considering launch campaign options that could reduce the orbit raising time for ViaSat-3 satellites. The first satellite is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2020, he said. Viasat signed a launch contract in 2016 for a ViaSat-3 satellite to launch with Arianespace on an Ariane 5, but did not specify which satellite. Viasat spokesperson Chris Phillips declined to say which ViaSat-3 satellite will launch on the Ariane 5 mission.

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Boeing investigating antenna glitch on ViaSat-2 satellite

Artist’s depiction of ViaSat-2. Credit: ViaSat

WASHINGTON — An on-orbit antenna issue identified during testing of the ViaSat-2 high-throughput satellite has Boeing and ViaSat searching for answers.

Satellite operator ViaSat said Jan. 9 that the ViaSat-2 satellite launched in June to provide some 300 Gbps of throughput will need additional testing to find what’s causing “some spot beams to perform differently than they did during ground testing.”

Boeing, manufacturer of the ViaSat-2 satellite, is working with ViaSat to identify the problem and find a solution.

“Our advanced ground network, coupled with the flexibility features of the ViaSat-2 satellite, will help us manage the impact from the identified antenna issue if needed,” Mark Dankberg, ViaSat’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to launching commercial service next month and bringing new higher-speed fixed and mobile services to market.”

ViaSat has been waiting on ViaSat-2 to provide fresh growth potential, building on the nearly oversubscribed ViaSat-1 satellite. Initial measurements suggest the antenna problem “will not impact the coverage area of the satellite, or materially impact the planned services and the expected financial results from the ViaSat-2 system,” ViaSat said.

A February commercial service start date remains unchanged, ViaSat said, adding that demonstrations with consumer user terminals show internet downlink speeds exceeding 100 Mbps. Testing has also shown ViaSat-2’s ground network of multiple small gateways — meant to boost throughput and ensure redundancy — is performing better than initially planned.

When ordered from Boeing in 2013, Dankberg described ViaSat-2 as having a unique spot beam design that had “never been done before.” The satellite covers North America, the Caribbean, some of South America, and a swath of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe frequented by aircraft and maritime vessels.

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ViaSat bags $350 million defense contract

ViaSat graphic showing air support’s ability to use Link 16 communications to connect aircraft with nearby units, such as ground forces. Credit: ViaSat.

WASHINGTON — Satellite operator and hardware provider ViaSat of Carlsbad, California received a $350 million contract from U.S. Special Operations Command for a mix of tactical radio and satellite equipment.

The Department of Defense announced the contract Dec. 21, having previously stated in October 2016 an intent “to solicit and negotiate solely with ViaSat” for a meaningful amount of telecommunications gear because ViaSat “is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and sole provider of these systems.”

ViaSat has been able to grow its government business during a time of more stringent spending, reporting a 7 percent year over year increase in revenues to $189.2 million during the company’s most recent three-month quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

Ric Prentiss, global head of telecommunications services research at Raymond James for wireless, towers and satellites, wrote that the $350 million contract “represents a 57% increase to ViaSat’s F2Q18 funded backlog of $616 [million],” in a Dec. 22 research note.

ViaSat’s exclusive ability to provide certain military equipment positions the company “to be the sole source for additional hardware and software going forward,” he wrote.

Mark Dankberg, ViaSat’s chairman and CEO, made a similar point during a Nov. 8 earnings call describing ViaSat’s approach to the government market.

“A significant portion of our growth has come from identifying and developing new products and services that fill end user needs that are not served by existing or planned programs of record,” he said. “We’ve also been successful at transitioning products and services to new platforms, new organizations and missions within the government. We believe these overall trends have good  prospects of continuing over the next several years.”

In the Defense Department’s 2016 presolicitation, the government said the ViaSat equipment and services are for “operationally relevant communications” with and within aircraft for threat avoidance and identifying nearby allies and enemy forces. ViaSat received $316,800 at the time of the award from fiscal 2017 research and development funds. The total contract stretches to December 2022.

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FCC grants Telesat LEO market access despite ViaSat protests

Telesat’s headquarters. Credit: Telesat

WASHINGTON — Following market approval given to OneWeb in June, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Nov. 3 granted global fleet operator Telesat permission to reach the U.S. with a constellation of 117 low-Earth orbit satellites.

Competitor and partner ViaSat of Carlsbad, California, which operates geostationary satellites and is awaiting FCC approval for a medium-Earth orbit system, had urged the FCC to deny Telesat’s filing, but was largely rebuffed.

Canada-based Telesat is the second LEO constellation after OneWeb to receive market access from the United States.

The FCC also granted Space Norway market access Nov. 3 to reach the U.S. with two satellites in non-geostationary elliptical orbits. Both Telesat and ViaSat sought to block Space Norway.

The first two prototype satellites in Telesat’s constellation launch this year, one on a Russian Soyuz and another on the Indian Space Research Organisation’s return-to-flight-mission of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Telesat plans to select a manufacturer for its constellation next year, and start launching in 2020, leading up to activation in 2021. The full constellation will support broadband communications with several terabits of total capacity.

FCC spokesperson Neil Derek Grace told SpaceNews Nov. 6 that the commission accepted one of ViaSat’s requests, namely that all non-geosynchronous (NGSO) grants be conditioned on the outcome of the FCC’s September rulemaking. Those September changes include giving prospective fleet operators six years to orbit half of their constellations instead of the entirety before forfeiting their spectrum.

Two other ViaSat petitions were rejected, the first being that NGSO fixed satellite services systems “should be limited to the technical parameters specified in their applications rather than what is permitted by the Commission’s rules and the [International Telecommunication Union] Radio Regulations,” he said.

The other petition, related to both aggregate interference impacting geostationary satellites and the appropriateness of existing equivalent power flux-density (EPFD) metrics, was rejected because “to a certain extent these matters were addressed” in the September rulemaking.

The FCC did decline Telesat’s request that its constellation should have spectrum priority based on filing date with the ITU. Telesat has consistently touted having priority Ka-band rights through the ITU, which Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada helped secure.

The FCC did include conditions on Telesat, such as a need to clarify space debris mitigation as the constellation progresses.

Debris battle with OneWeb, Spire

OneWeb and Spire both took up space situational awareness issues about Telesat LEO with the FCC. OneWeb said Telesat should have a 125-kilometer buffer zone separating Telesat LEO from other NGSO constellations. Spire complained that Telesat didn’t provide enough information about how the operator will deorbit its satellites.

Telesat has yet to finalize the design of its LEO constellation, so the operator submitted a preliminary orbital debris mitigation analysis. The FCC said it still wants a final orbital debris mitigation plan later on — a request Spire made after questioning the adequacy of Telesat’s orbital debris showing.

Regarding the buffer zone, the FCC said it is concerned about the risk of satellite collisions, but believes “that these concerns are best addressed in the first instance through inter-operator coordination.”

“At this stage, we do not think it appropriate to specify the methods for effecting coordination, which may involve a wide range of changes in system design and operations,” the agency wrote.

The FCC added that since OneWeb is based in Britain’s Channel Islands and Telesat is in Canada, their constellations “are authorized by other administrations,” and therefore the commission won’t, at this stage, prescribe a solution. If Telesat and other NGSO constellations can’t coordinate their orbits, then the FCC said it might intervene.

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Yahsat satellite delay punts Eutelsat’s Konnect Africa growth to 2019

Al Yah 3 satellite. Credit: Yahsat artist’s concept

WASHINGTON — Delays with Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 satellite, now more than a year past its initial launch target, have forced Eutelsat Communications to hold off on expanding its Konnect Africa broadband business until next year.

More than three quarters of the capacity for the new business venture is hedged on Al Yah 3, Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer told investors Oct. 26, leaving the company with too little capacity to otherwise jump start the business.

Konnect Africa is Paris-based Eutelsat’s new broadband business focused on bringing internet access to people across the sub-Saharan half of the continent through partnerships with mobile service providers. Eutelsat started Konnect Africa in June, having struck a capacity lease with Yahsat of Abu Dhabi in late 2016 for Ka-band capacity on Yahsat 1B, which launched in 2012, and on Al Yah 3 which at the time had slipped slightly from a late 2016 launch to early 2017. That capacity replaces what Eutelsat already lost on Amos 6, a large satellite for Israeli satellite operator Spacecom that was destroyed when its Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a test-firing.

Al Yah 3 suffered several delays, Belmer said, but now has a definite launch date in the first quarter of 2018.

“Our understanding is that first the manufacturing of the satellite took more time than anticipated, and second they had difficulty to find a launch slot with Ariane,” Belmer said.

Orbital ATK is building the 3,500-kilogram satellite, and Arianespace is supplying an Ariane 5 rocket for launch.

Belmer said Eutelsat expects to bring its Africa broadband business to full size starting in June 2018 at the earliest, pushing a projected 15 million euros ($17.5 million) in new 2018 revenue out to 2019. Without Al Yah 3, Konnect Africa lacks enough capacity to generate meaningful revenue, he said.

Eutelsat has another satellite, the Africa Broadband Satellite, under construction by Thales Alenia Space. The Africa Broadband Satellite is expected to launch in 2019 with 75 Gbps of capacity distributed through 65 spot beams.

ViaSat negotiations continuing

Eutelsat’s joint venture with Carlsbad, California, satellite operator ViaSat to sell internet subscriptions to residences across Europe is up and running with Eutelsat’s KA-SAT, Belmer said, but the two companies are still negotiating on the framework of the second ViaSat-3 satellite.

Belmer admitted negotiations on ViaSat-3’s procurement are going “long,” and are “very complex,” but said a conclusion is expected by the end of this year.

“We intend to sign and end up with a positive conclusion,” he said. “On both parts the intention is very clear. There is no lack of unity.”

ViaSat is building the first two 1-terabit satellites in the ViaSat-3 trio using platforms from Boeing and payloads built in-house. Eutelsat is helping finance the ViaSat-3 satellite that covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and as part of the deal, ViaSat paid 132 million euros earlier this year for 49 percent of KA-SAT. Belmer said the partnership doesn’t cut off Eutelsat from selling capacity to aviation competitors of ViaSat, such as Panasonic Avionics and Gogo, though ViaSat wants to extend its mobility business in Europe.

Mobility, driven in large part by capacity for inflight Wi-Fi, is Eutelsat’s fastest growing business vertical with 33.3 percent year over year growth. Panasonic Avionics is Eutelsat’s anchor customer for the Asia-Pacific-focused Eutelsat-172b satellite, for which Belmer said 60 percent of the capacity is already sold.

Ample broadcast potential with HD

Belmer said television broadcasting, representing 65 percent of Eutelsat’s business, is now poised for meaningful high definition growth now that lots of channels have transitioned to a more modern compression standard.

Almost 60 percent of Eutelsat’s broadcast customers are using MPEG-4, a standard that lets them use less satellite capacity to broadcast the same channels. In the early rollout, the compression upgrade can cost satellite operators business, but MPEG-4 is better suited for HD broadcasts, which are more bandwidth intensive. Eutelsat has already borne the brunt of the compression storm, Belmer said, and is now ready to capitalize on more transitions to HD.

“We have only 18 percent of channels which are in HD, meaning that we are now going to grow more in HD than in MPEG-4. That’s the inflection point we are moving to,” he said.

“MPEG-4 has grown by a bit less than 10 percent [per year] and HD has grown by around 30 percent [per year], which means that we add much much more capacity consumption than we reduce capacity consumption because of compression,” he added.

Eutelsat purchased Noorsat, one of its broadcast customers, for $75 million on Oct. 13, citing HD growth as one of the primary drivers. Based in Bahrain, Noorsat distributes around 300 television channels across the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region.

Belmer said Eutelsat is also in the early stages of developing a pay-TV business in Ukraine.

Eutelsat’s broadcast business shrank by 0.8 percent year over year, but increased by 0.5 percent for the quarter thanks to new business in Poland, Russia, and MENA. The company’s total channel count reached 6,755, up 6.6 percent from last year, with HD channels growing by 4 percent.

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