First software defined geostationary satellite in orbit
The world’s first geostationary satellite, developed by Surrey Satellites in the UK, has been launched into orbit by ArianeSpace for European operator Eutelsat.
The launch marks the culmination of 35 years of technology development for Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) which started in 1985 as a spin out of the University of Surrey in the UK developing small satellites. It has since seen over 70 systems into orbit
The successful launch of the Quantum satellite for Eutelsat is SSTL’s first geostationary satellite and the first with a software defined architecture so that the platform can be reconfigured during operation. Despite the name, the Quantum satellite does not supply quantum security.
SSTL’s small GEO platform was designed and developed under ARTES funding from ESA, and in 2014 it was contracted to supply the platform, propulsion panels and central thrust tube for Quantum by owner Airbus Defence and Space.
SSTL was bought by Astrium, part of EADS, in 2009 but in 2014 became an independent company within the Airbus Defence and Space Group as part of the restructuring of EADS. Approximately 100 staff at SSTL worked on the Quantum project.
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“The EutelSat Quantum programme presented many challenges for SSTL to overcome during the development of the satellite system design, mechanical design, propulsion system and key subsystems within the satellite platform,” said Ben Stocker, Projects Director at SSTL. “The skills and knowledge gained through successfully overcoming these challenges has enabled us to refine our engineering approach, especially for markets and applications where system reliability and availability are key requirements, and, with the continued support of the UKSA and ESA, has put us in a very strong position to deliver our exciting upcoming pathfinder missions.”
The satellite is the first of a new generation of fully reconfigurable telecommunications satellites and is the first reprogrammable commercial telecommunications satellite to operate in the Ku a high-frequency band. The satellite’s eight beams can be redirected to move in almost real time to provide information to passengers on board moving planes or ships and can also be adjusted at the push of a button, so that more data is delivered when demand surges.
SSTL says it will use the experience from the project for new technology areas such as lunar communications.
The Quantum satellite was launched by ArianeSpace which highlights its role as a European satellite launch company in the face of plans to develop competing launcher technology. “With this new Ariane 5 success, the first in 2021, Arianespace is pleased to be continuing its service to two of its most loyal customers, operators Embratel and Eutelsat,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “This mission with two highly innovative satellites on board, built by Maxar Technologies and developed by Airbus Defence and Space and ESA respectively, has reconfirmed how the competitiveness and reliability of our launch solutions serves the ambitions of our customers.
Alongside the Eutelsat Quantum was the Star One D2 built by Maxar in California for Brazilian operator Embratel. For this flight, the Ariane 5 launcher carried 10,515 kg, using a cryogenic upper stage called ESC-D, whose tanks were extended for this mission.
“Ariane 5 blasting off from the Guiana Space Centre is a strong symbol at this time when Europe is resetting its ambitions for space, in particular with launchers,” said André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup. “Our solid expertise will also be a major factor in the success of Ariane 6, for which the first flight model is currently being integrated at our sites in France and Germany.”
The next generation Ariane 6 launcher has seen long delays and is now scheduled for its first launch in October. ArianeSpace coordinates an industrial network of more than 600 companies including 350 SMEs and so is a key player for the European space industry.
The SDR technology will also have wider implications as Eutelsat is now a major shareholder in OneWeb which is launching a constellation of satellites in Low Earth Orbit rather than GEO. The UK government is also a major shareholder in OneWeb and there will be significant pressure for UK software defined reconfigurable technology in the second generation of satellites hat are currently being defined. SSTL was also a key contributor to the first generation of the Galileo satellite navigation system.
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