More Ka-band satellites likely
By Chris Forrester

Hughes Network Services, now part of Echostar and California-based ViaSat, are both expected to order extra ‘super-giant’ Ka-band satellites over the next year. These Ka-band satellites will target broadband satellite users in parts of the world where conventional broadband doesn’t reach.

Hughes, ViaSat and Europe’s Eutelsat, are each operating or about to operate huge Ka-band ‘next generation’ satellites. Hughes calls its craft ‘Jupiter’ models, and its plan looks to expand its Ka-band coverage to include Brazil, India or China, which it described as being “exciting markets2. These massive Ka-band craft, because of frequency re-use technology, are capable of handling 100 gigabits of throughput per second, about 10-times more than the more normal Ku-band satellites.

In August this year Hughes bought its way into the Brazilian market by paying $118 million for two orbital slots, licensed by Brazil, at 45 deg West and 68.5 deg West, and including Ka-band access rights.

Hughes’ existing Spaceway 3 craft, its first Ka-band satellite, has been operational since April 2008, but only handles about 10 gigabits per second of throughput. The first of Hughes’ new Jupiter craft will launch mid-2012, and is being built by Space Systems/Loral. Two follow-on Jupiters will serve international markets.

ViaSat’s own version of the ‘Jupiter’ model is due for launch on October 20th by an ILS/Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It weighs a massive 6700 kgs and will help back-up and replace ViaSat’s existing Wildblue-1 satellite which has been sold out on some of its beams. This latest ViaSat craft will have even higher throughput, of about 140 gigabits per second. Because this new craft is a complex beast it will be some months before the satellite is declared operationally ready to go to work. But most observers then expect another ViaSat Ka-band craft to be ordered. Again, Space Systems/Loral is the satellite’s builder.

Finally, there’s Europe’s Eutelsat, which launched its Ka-Sat craft in December 2010. Declared operational in May this year, the satellite was built by EADS Astrium and has a throughput of some 70 gigabits/second, using 82 narrow Ka-band spot beams and is capable of handling up to about 1 million homes using its Tooway consumer broadband service. Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat depends on ViaSat’s ‘SurfBeam’ technology.

To date, there’s been very little information forthcoming on the success – or otherwise –of Eutelsat’s craft. Eutelsat’s AGM on November 8th might see a fresh update emerge. Certainly 2011 has seen an expansion in the number of Ka-band/Tooway resellers appointed which should halp boost business prospects.