The Promise of the Future in the Satellite Industry

At the SATCON show in New York in November, Kay Sears, President of Intelsat General Corporation, participated on the opening keynote panel, entitled, “The Satellite Industry Today and Tomorrow – A Dialogue between Today’s Industry Leaders and the Promise of the Future.”

A few themes came through in Kay’s comments in the discussion:

1. The idea of blurring lines between commercial and government systems was a topic of discussion, especially in regard to hosted payloads. Kay encouraged more government-commercial cross-pollination similar to the digital payload on the Intelsat EpicNG platform. “Affordable resiliency is somewhat of an oxymoron,” she noted. “The goal is to build resilient systems that are affordable – and the commercial community is one way the government can do that. Flexible payloads, more software-defined payloads, will help bring that about.”

2. Software-defined satellites will enable flexibility in meeting fast-changing market demands. “Outside, macro changes like hotspots and regulatory changes can affect how we plan for our satellites,” said Kay. “We are moving toward software-defined satellites, allowing us that ability to reprogram footprints – and even frequencies – once a satellite is in orbit.”

3. Cross-industry partnerships will help meet customer needs. Kay described Intelsat’s strategic investments in OneWeb (a Low Earth Orbit constellation), Kymeta and Phasor (both antenna manufacturers) as “small bets” in addressing what customers really want in their applications.  “Satellite has a huge role to play in the Internet of Things and as an established space provider, we can help make sure that what the younger companies are developing has a market and will sell,” she explained.

Robert Bell, President of the Society of Satellite Professionals, asked about disruption in the satellite market and how existing companies are responding to innovations from “new space” players.

“We have a ‘new space’ technology going up with our first Intelsat EpicNG satellite in January,” offered Kay. “It’s an innovative, new platform. We, as an established service provider, can build into our systems, which is what we are doing in our partnerships with these ‘disrupters’ when we come together to serve the next generation of satellite applications.

“Not all innovation is coming from new companies in Silicon Valley,” she continued. “It’s coming from SSL in Palo Alto, and from El Segundo, where Boeing is building our Intelsat EpicNG satellites. There is innovation and new space happening at Intelsat and across our industry – and that is an exciting promise for the future.”

The panel was moderated by Susan Irwin, President of Irwin Communications, and featured Kay and John Celli, President of SSL, as the “industry leaders” along with three young professionals in the satellite industry: Ethan Lucarelli, Associate, Wiley Rein LLP, Jennifer Salmon, Payload Manager SSL and Sarah Thomas, Field Marketing Lead, Boeing.

Ethan, Jennifer and Sarah were all honored the previous evening as recipients of the SSPI Promise Award in recognition of their potential to play a leadership role in the satellite industry. Sarah was presented her award by Intelsat’s Eileen McGowan, Media Satellite Product Development Manager, and a past recipient of the Promise Award.

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