ESA selects Viasat to study multi-orbit satellite communications

TAMPA, Florida – Viasat said July 26 that it has been selected to study multi-orbit satellite networks for the European Space Agency.

The study will be conducted by the US-based satellite broadband operator’s UK subsidiary, which will spend a year evaluating technical requirements and potential markets for hybrid networks that combine multiple frequency bands and network architectures.

These include geostationary orbit (GEO), medium earth orbit (MEO), low earth orbit (LEO) and high-altitude platform systems (HAPS) such as balloons and airships.

John Reeves, Managing Director of Viasat UK, said the company will research how multi-layer networks “can increase the capacity, resilience and performance of commercial and government end users”.

Viasat UK provides communication solutions primarily for the UK government, primarily for data security and information insurance applications.

Viasat, based in Carlsbad, California, is currently working through regulatory approvals to buy British satellite operator Inmarsat in a $7.3 billion deal that would globally expand the North American company’s Ka-band GEO constellation. americana for other spectrum bands.

Inmarsat operates a fleet in GEO, but has plans for satellites in LEO and highly elliptical orbits (HEO) that can maximize a satellite’s dwell time at higher latitudes.

Meanwhile, the European Union is looking to develop a multibillion-dollar LEO constellation to fill the broadband access gaps in Europe and Africa.

The proposed sovereign constellation – which is in very early stages – also aims to provide secure communications for European governments and military organizations through quantum encryption technologies.

A consortium that includes European satellite manufacturers, operators, service providers and launchers has been helping Europe to study the constellation’s feasibility.

Two other groups of early-stage space companies are also studying the proposed network: New Symphonie, led by French companies, and UN:IO, led by German-based companies.

Viasat expects to complete its study for ESA in Q2 2023 to provide the UK, Europe and allied nations with “important guidance on a path to develop and harness the potential of resilient multi-layer satellite communication capabilities”.

Viasat declined to disclose the amount of funding it will receive from ESA for the study.

“The study will focus on understanding how the combination of orbital regimes can create future systems that more efficiently use all available resources in orbit,” said Viasat spokesman Daniel Bleier.

While the study is “not intended to specifically inform Europe’s plans for a sovereign LEO constellation,” Bleier said it “could provide valuable insights to advance the analysis of LEO, MEO and GEO systems, as well as the capabilities of hybrid systems.” and multilayered. systems”.

Viasat’s multi-orbit plan

Viasat shareholders last month approved their plans to acquire Inmarsat, putting the deal on track for completion later this year following regulatory approvals.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the UK competition regulator, said on July 25 that it had begun reviewing the transaction. The regulator invited the public to assess its review during a comment period ending August 15.

“This is an early and important part of the process for closing the deal, and we are committed to continued engagement with the CMA in this review,” Viasat spokeswoman Jessica Packard said in an emailed statement.

“We maintain our belief that the complementary resources and assets of the combination with Inmarsat will result in the creation of a better UK business that will offer greater capabilities to both UK consumers and government customers.”

French GEO operator Eutelsat has announced the latest multi-orbit consolidation agreement July 26 with plans to merge with OneWeb, the UK-based LEO broadband operator.

That deal could have implications for Europe’s sovereign broadband constellation, because Eutelsat is part of the industry consortium that has helped develop the network.

Although Eutelsat will take control of OneWeb through its proposed all-share transaction, the British government would retain a special interest in OneWeb that comes with priority voting rights.

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