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Intelsat General Increasing Focus on Stopping Interference, Musing Ka-band Options

By Caleb Henry | October 7, 2014
      Mark Daniels, VP of engineering and operations for Intelsat General

      Mark Daniels, VP of engineering and operations for Intelsat General. Photo: Intelsat General

      [Via Satellite 10-07-2014] As Intelsat prepares for EpicNG, its next generation High Throughput Satellites (HTS), a key focus will be on gaining strength in the military market. This sector has presented a challenge to Intelsat recently, as sequestration and contract consolidation led to reduced government spending. With the first EpicNG satellite, IS-29e, slated to launch next year, the company anticipates these highly capable satellites will result in newfound growth.

      To make sure EpicNG is all it can be for the military sector, Intelsat General, the government-focused wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat, has undertaken several initiatives it believes will prove advantageous. For example, the satellites will support spot beams and an open architecture system to provide higher throughput to existing modems and antennas. But one of the biggest improvements will be a beefed up resistance to jamming and intentional interference.

      “In the past we have had limited capabilities to deal with interference on the spacecraft, and now we have capabilities to deal with it,” Mark Daniels, VP of engineering at Intelsat General, told Via Satellite. “We have a whole protected communications roadmap that we are working on where we can bring more options to the table for military planners.”

      Intelsat General has had some notable contract wins in recent months. The company was recently awarded a one-year contract renewal from the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) to continue providing radio and television content to U.S. military forces. The service uses capacity both on and off Intelsat’s network, as well as the IntelsatOne terrestrial network, to reach more than 200,000 people. The original one-year contact, signed in 2011, came with six, one-year renewal options. Intelsat General also received a contract renewal from DRS Technologies for capacity over Afghanistan.

      Information assurance and security needs are having a strong influence on future Intelsat satellites. Daniels said that providing a higher level of security to improve protected communications will be a defining part of EpicNG.

      “Protected communications is a growing area,” he said. “We are layering in the jamming mitigation capabilities that we have and also the protected waveforms that are being developed now by the Air Force. That gives a more secure solution that we can deliver commercially as an addition to what the [Department of Defense] DoD can do.”

      Intelsat 29e, currently under construction by Boeing on the 702MP satellite bus, has a footprint designed to cover the Americas and the Northern Atlantic. The second satellite, Intelsat 33e, will cover Africa, Europe and Asia extensively. Daniels added that the company is also actively considering more Ka-band satellites, which could include some of the EpicNG variety.

      “We at Intelsat do have plans for Ka-band as well. Most people think of us as just C-band and Ku-band but we do have orbital rights for Ka-band slots and we do plan to use those in the future as well,” Daniels said.

      Should Intelsat opt for Ka-band HTS satellites, it would mean more competition with Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) constellation. GX is expected to reach full deployment in the second half of 2015. According to Daniels, increased competition between Ku-band and Ka-band has made Intelsat and Inmarsat into more of competitors over time. Any Ka-band offering would have to come with unique differences to Inmarsat’s HTS system.

      “We always look at everything as a business case,” he explained. “Are we going to go compete directly head on with GX? Well, we will look at what makes sense for Intelsat and our customers. I don’t think it would look just like a GX. The bottom line is, Inmarsat is moving out of just Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) and we are moving out of Fixed Satellite Services (FSS), so we now overlap a little bit.”

      In addition to more standard wide-beam satellites, Daniels said Intelsat is planning more than eight EpicNG satellites for procurement. He also confirmed that EpicNG satellites will have room for hosted payloads despite being “fully loaded.” The first two will cover most of the populated world. How future satellites are designed will continue to include a strong military focus.