Boeing investigating antenna glitch on ViaSat-2 satellite


Updated at 7:19 p.m. Eastern with additional information from ViaSat, Boeing and Harris Corp. 

WASHINGTON — An on-orbit antenna issue identified during testing of the ViaSat-2 high-throughput satellite has Boeing and ViaSat searching for answers.

Satellite operator ViaSat said Jan. 9 that the ViaSat-2 satellite launched in June to provide some 300 Gbps of throughput will need additional testing to find what’s causing “some spot beams to perform differently than they did during ground testing.”

Boeing, manufacturer of the ViaSat-2 satellite, is working with ViaSat to identify the problem and find a solution.

“Our advanced ground network, coupled with the flexibility features of the ViaSat-2 satellite, will help us manage the impact from the identified antenna issue if needed,” Mark Dankberg, ViaSat’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to launching commercial service next month and bringing new higher-speed fixed and mobile services to market.”

ViaSat has been waiting on ViaSat-2 to provide fresh growth potential, building on the nearly oversubscribed ViaSat-1 satellite. Initial measurements suggest the antenna problem “will not impact the coverage area of the satellite, or materially impact the planned services and the expected financial results from the ViaSat-2 system,” ViaSat said.

Dankberg, during a Jan. 9 investor conference, said the malfunction is with “some of the antennas,” but did not quantify how many. ViaSat spokesperson Christina Phillips told SpaceNews the company doesn’t disclose the number of antennas on ViaSat-2 for competitive reasons. Publicly released artist’s renditions of the satellite differ from the actual design, she said.

“It is indicative of some kind of deployment-type of issue, which we are trying to address,” Dankberg said. “But I think the overall positive message is we have so many elements of the system that have come together really well that we have more than enough maneuvering room to deal with that issue if it turns out that it can’t be resolved in a better performance way.”

A Boeing spokesperson told SpaceNews the manufacturer “integrates the antenna subsystem with parts built by Boeing and our suppliers,” and is “not able to disclose specific supplier names at this time.” Harris Corp., a top supplier of antenna reflectors for commercial telecom satellites, deferred questions about ViaSat-2 to Boeing.

A February commercial service start date remains unchanged, ViaSat said, adding that demonstrations with consumer user terminals show internet downlink speeds exceeding 100 Mbps. Testing has also shown ViaSat-2’s ground network of multiple small gateways — meant to boost throughput and ensure redundancy — is performing better than initially planned.

When ordered from Boeing in 2013, Dankberg described ViaSat-2 as having a unique spot beam design that had “never been done before.” The satellite covers North America, the Caribbean, some of South America, and a swath of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe frequented by aircraft and maritime vessels.