Year in Review: 2011′s Most Significant Advances in Satellite Technology (Part 1)

[Satellite News 12-28-11] The past 12 months have seen a new impetus placed on the noteworthy acceleration in satellite technology. From Ka-band to hosted payloads, new offerings and breakthroughs have changed the dynamic of the satellite industry and have paved the way for the next generation of developments in 2012. Satellite News has compiled a list of the most discussed technology topics of the year based on Web traffic and reader interest. We present them here in alphabetical order. 
 
Arianespace Brings New Life to the Soyuz; Awaits Vega Debut
Arianespace successfully launched its first Soyuz rocket from French Guiana’s European Spaceport in October after years of development work to expand the launcher’s portfolio. The debut launch carried the first two Galileo IOV-1 satellites in the Galileo constellation. The satellites, built for the European Space Agency (ESA) by an Astrium-led consortium, were injected into an intermediate circular orbit at an inclination of 54.7 degrees. The duration of the mission from liftoff to satellite separation was approximately 3 hours, 49 minutes and 27 seconds.
   Arianespace’s “Soyuz at CSG” program commenced in 1996 with the establishment of a partnership between Europe and Russia and the subsequent creation of a joint venture, Starsem, to operate Soyuz commercial launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Arianespace Chairman and CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall said the Soyuz would play an important role in the future of Europe’s space program as the rocket gives the continent access to a well-known medium launch vehicle while allowing Russia to increase its annual production of Soyuz launchers.
   Arianespace manages the supply of Russian systems and coordinates and supports the work of Russian companies during the development phase. The company also is in charge of operating Soyuz missions during the operational phase. ESA serves as the Soyuz program manager, and provides the Soyuz launch complex (ELS) to Arianespace. Russian space agency Roscosmos is in charge of the Russian segment of the program and coordinates the work of all Russian companies involved. The French space agency CNES acts as system architect for the Soyuz at CSG program and the design authority for all facilities at the space center.
   The lightweight Vega represents the third launcher in Arianespace’s family of commercial vehicles and is planned to perform its first flight in early 2012 from its French Guiana Spaceport. Vega is a small launch vehicle with three solid-propulsion stages, and a fourth stage with a re-ignitable liquid rocket engine. Used primarily to launch small satellites into low Earth orbit or Sun-synchronous orbit, Vega will offer payload capacity of 1,500 kg into polar orbit at 700 km altitude.
 
LightSquared, GPS Manufacturers Struggle to Find Amicable Interference Solution
LightSquared formally presented its modified spectrum plan to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in June as a solution to its long-standing interference issues with the GPS industry.
   LightSquared’s three-part solution proposal focused on its decision to utilize lower frequencies provided by Inmarsat that are further away from the GPS spectrum. The network provider also produced its own testing results claiming that its solution resolves interference for approximately 99.5 percent of all commercial GPS devices- including all GPS-enabled cell phones. While the plan is the latest development in LightSquared’s plan to move forward, the company also used the proposal to lay some blame at the feet of GPS device manufacturers.
   “GPS device test results, which were also filed at the FCC today, show unequivocally that the interference is caused by the GPS device manufacturer’s decision over the last eight years to design products that depend on using spectrum assigned to other FCC licensees,” LightSquared said in the proposal. “The GPS device manufacturers, unlike relevant government agencies, have been largely uninterested in finding a win-win solution. This is a problem that the GPS industry could have avoided by equipping their devices over the last several years with filters that cost as little as five cents each.”
   Consumer market GPS manufacturer Garmin struck back at LightSquared, claiming that the company has no standing to shift responsibility back on manufacturers. Garmin engineers kicked off a debate on the issue in February by filing results of an interference test with the FCC. The issue is still ongoing.
 
MDA Space Infrastructure Servicing Vehicle Wins Intelsat Endorsement
Intelsat selected MDA to service and extend the life of its on-orbit satellites via MDA’s space-based service vehicle in a contract valued at more than $280 million.
     The deal was announced in March. MDA plans to launch its Space Infrastructure Servicing vehicle into near geosynchronous orbit, where it will service commercial and government satellites in need of additional fuel, repositioning or other maintenance. The new contract follows Intelsat General signing an agreement with MDA to be its exclusive channel to bring on-orbit services to the U.S. government.
    MDA and Intelsat said the companies would finalize specifications and other requirements over the next six months before both parties authorize the build phase of the program. The first refueling mission is scheduled for 3.5 years after the manufacturing phase begins.
 
Novelsat NS3T Technology Challenges DVB-S2 Performance Limits
Israeli satellite bandwidth optimization company Novelsat hopes its NS3T satellite transmission modulation technology will be considered a breakthrough improvement on the current second-generation DVB-S2 standard.
   The NS3T solution for modems and modulators, which was made public July 20, is based on signal processing techniques that apply a mix of FPGA/ASIC algorithms that normally cancel each other out. When combined, however, Novelsat says these algorithms provide the potential to supply unlimited computational power.
   Industry resistance to the idea that marginal improvement upon DVB-S2 was possible has long been based on fixed amounts of spectrum and physical limits on the amount of data that could be transmitted. NovelSat Co-Chairman David Furstenburg has led efforts to prove that NS3T can overcome these challenges — not only in the eyes of skeptical industry engineers, but to the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) organization itself.
 
SES Sends CHIRP Hosted Payload into Orbit
SES-2 was lofted into orbit in September. The satellite was ordered by SES to replenish its fleet of satellites covering North America and designated for positioning at the 87 degrees West orbital slot, but also carried the U.S. Air Force’s Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (CHIRP) as a secondary instrument. The completed mission brought life to a series of hosted payload discussions.
   CHIRP’s mission will be to demonstrate infrared detection technologies from geosynchronous orbit for missile warning applications. SES Government Solutions (SES-GS) recently completed initial on-orbit testing on the spacecraft. SES-GS confirmed that the hosted payload platform has begun its demonstration period for its U.S. Air Force customer following the completion of the test. “Since completing initial on-orbit tests, we are pleased to share that the sensor continues to provide valuable insight into the potential for future wide field-of-view technologies and the benefits of this type of innovative arrangement,” SES-GS President and CEO Tip Osterthaler said in a statement.
   Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) designed CHIRP’s field-of-view sensor technology. Orbital Sciences Corp. built the SES-2 satellite that hosts the unit. CHIRP is the first commercially hosted payload delivered for the U.S. Air Force and the first government payload on an SES satellite. SES said the platform recently observed the launch of a NASA weather and climate satellite in an early test of its capabilities.
 
ViaSat Enters Ka-band Market with ViaSat-1 Launch
It began in January 2008, when Eutelsat and ViaSat announced that the two companies had ordered a pair of all Ka-band satellites under collaboration to develop more satellite broadband capacity. At the time, former Eutelsat Chairman and CEO of Giuliano Berretta described the plan as, “crossing a new frontier to a specifically designed infrastructure for interactive consumer services … for millions of homes in Europe and North America that will still be beyond range of terrestrial broadband networks in 2010.”
   Now, three years later, those plans finally came to fruition as ViaSat’s high-throughput, all Ka-band satellite ViaSat-1 was launched into orbit Oct. 19 by International Launch Services (ILS) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Proton M rocket – almost 10 months after ILS sent Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat into space.
   “ViaSat-1 has been a complex and challenging project. The ViaSat-1 system, which includes the gateways and user terminals in addition to the satellite, is going to change the way people think about satellite broadband. Now, with the satellite at launch base, we are very close to seeing our vision become a reality,” ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg told Satellite News.
ViaSat-1 manufacturer Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) confirmed Oct. 20 that the satellite is currently performing post-launch maneuvers according to plan. “The satellite deployed its solar arrays early this morning according to schedule, and tomorrow, it will begin firing its main thruster to maneuver into geostationary orbit,” SS/L said in a statement following yesterday’s launch.
   ViaSat-1’s 140 Gbps of available capacity is more than all other Internet satellites over North America combined. The satellite, based on SS/L’s 1300 platform, aims to provide high-capacity Ka-band spot beam satellite with planned coverage over North America and Hawaii for a service life for 15 or more years. The satellite will be positioned at the 115.1 degrees West longitude orbital slot. The spacecraft features 72 spot beams – 63 of which are owned by satellite operator Telesat and will be used for the Xplornet broadband service to consumers in rural Canada.

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