Intelsat 29e Completes In-Orbit Testing: The Start of an “EpicNG” Era

By Duy Nguyen, Senior Program Manager, Space Systems Acquisition

It has been a while since we wrote on the Intelsat blog about Intelsat 29e, our flagship high throughput satellite that was launched on 27 January 2016. As I pondered writing this post, I couldn’t help but reflect back on all of the years of planning and coordination that brought us to this point. I have been lucky to work on this project for more than four years with some of the best engineers in the business. And now we are on the cusp of serving our customers with this game-changing technology!

The Satellite Engineering Team and supporting groups have just completed thirty days of payload in-orbit testing (PIOT). This is a critical step in ensuring that the capabilities and performance of the payload (which includes communications and Telemetry & Command radiofrequency subsystems) have withstood the launch and on-orbit environments. PIOT also verifies the proper pointing of communication antennas post deployment. The process requires detailed planning, coordination (some with other operators to avoid interference), training and rehearsal.

So what is the function of the payload? It’s the part of the satellite that provides the primary function – which in this case is communications. You can think of it as the engine of an automobile. Take that analogy a step further and you can consider the IS-29e payload as the engine on a high performance sports car. This is due in large part to the satellite’s unique digital payload.

Previous generations of Intelsat communications satellites were “hardwired” at time of manufacture, and at launch were fixed in terms of beam connectivity and bandwidth allocation. In a step-change in satellite technology, the digital payload makes it possible for the space network – that is, the beam connectivity and bandwidth allocation – to be reconfigured from the ground to meet traffic demands and business needs over the life of the satellite.  The use of spot beam technology and frequency reuse also boosts capacity, which is expected to be 10 times more throughput than a traditional satellite.

While Intelsat’s Satellite Engineering, Satellite Operations and Network Operations teams are well versed in PIOT tasks, testing of the IS-29e payload was an order of magnitude increase in complexity over any previous Intelsat communications satellite. Furthermore, unlike previous PIOTs, the IS-29e PIOT was a complete end-to-end systems test, meaning that, for the first time, key components of the ground network were tested with the satellite.

The IS-29e PIOT could easily be regarded as one of the most detailed we’ve ever conducted! At thirty days from start to finish, the Intelsat and Boeing PIOT team worked tirelessly on a 24/7 schedule. As I write this, all test objectives have been accomplished, and the satellite is now undergoing initial performance testing with an anchor customer. Soon, IS-29e will be declared ready for commercial service, and we will start to transition our customers’ traffic to the first Intelsat EpicNG satellite, ushering in a new and “EpicNG” era in global communications!

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