Envisioning the Satellite of the Future

By Jean-Luc Froeliger, Vice President, Satellite Operations & Engineering

With nanosats, cubesats, smallsats, balloons and drones capturing the attention of the news media these days, there is no better time to talk about the FSS satellite of the future. In fact, there are exciting opportunities on the horizon in our sector, as we evolve our satellites with our customers’ requirements in mind.

Customers have told us they want high performance capacity that is efficient, tailored to meet their needs and able to be implemented rapidly to deliver value throughout the chain.

Here are four ways we envision delivering cost-efficient, needs-based satellites for our customers faster than ever.

1. Software Defined Payloads
A digital beamformer associated with an active antenna would enable much of this adaptability. Moreover, carry this type of flexibility to its ultimate potential and you arrive at what we call a “software defined” payload. This is the flexibility of the future whereby the satellites are basically identical on the ground, and can be configured to the customer’s needs once in orbit.

2. Pre-Built Satellites
It is plausible that satellite manufacturer would “pre-build” these standard satellites ahead of the demand. At the request of a customer, those satellites could be launched in weeks instead of months and configured to meet the mission demand once in orbit. This will lower the recurring cost of the satellites and reduce the time to market.

3. Technical Innovations
We are constantly working to improve each aspect of our satellites. Innovations such as more efficient solar cells, solar cells that degrade less with time in orbit, and more mass efficient battery cells will all enhance the power of satellites. Progress in heat pipe technology and thermal properties of paint will be critical to minimize heat generated inside the satellite. Innovations in propulsion systems will also yield efficiencies and longevity.

4. Operational Innovations
In addition to advancements in the payload and the bus, there are innovations to come in satellite operations, such as autonomous ranging and station-keeping on board the satellite as well as enhanced on-board radio frequency mitigation and anti-jamming. Finally, flexible tracking, telemetry and command as well as encrypted telemetry are logical upcoming developments that will enable the flexibility necessary to realize the spacecraft design of the future.

Even as we get ready to launch the Intelsat EpicNG® high throughput satellite platform in early 2016, our engineers are already developing the next generation of satellite technology to come after that…because at Intelsat, we never stop innovating.

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