Eutelsat weighs adding more Quantum satellites to fleet

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This story was updated May 24 at 10:45 a.m. EDT to include revised information from Eutelsat.

SINGAPORE and WASHINGTON — Global fleet operator Eutelsat is considering ordering at least two more Quantum-class satellites in order to achieve global coverage with satellites that can move capacity around in customizable beams.

Paris-based Eutelsat has one Quantum satellite under construction at Airbus Defence and Space UK, which began development on the Eutelsat Quantum payload under a 2015 contract. Speaking at Milsatcom Asia-Pacific in Singapore May 16, Willy Guilleux, Eutelsat’s senior vice president of global government services, said the operator has reservations for half of the capacity on the first satellite, and is now actively considering expanding Quantum into a new fleet.

“The idea is to expand the fleet as a minimum to three satellites to make sure we put complete coverage of the Earth,” he said.

Guilleux said Eutelsat is placing the first Quantum satellite at 12.5 degrees west, a geostationary position over the Atlantic Ocean with the ability to cover the Americas, Europe and Africa. The second satellite will likely go over Asia, he said.

Eutelsat Quantum is a software-defined, reprogrammable satellite with public support from the U.K. and European space agencies. Using a phased-array antenna from Airbus subsidiary CASA for the receive antenna, and an advanced beam-forming assembly from microwave component supplier Anaren for the transmit antenna, the satellite can reshape the coverage and power level of its beams, letting customers adapt the satellite based on their needs. Eutelsat signed a contract with SpaceX last year for a Falcon 9 launch of Quantum or another Eutelsat satellite. Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said May 24 that Eutelsat has not announced the launch provider for Quantum, which Guilleux said will launch in 2019.

Eutelsat and its partners have described Eutelsat Quantum as a breakthrough in the pursuit of “flexible” satellites. Most telecommunications satellites today have coverage areas, or “footprints,” with predetermined contours and signal power. Some satellites also carry steerable beams that can shift from region to region like a spotlight to areas of customer demand. Eutelsat Quantum has no permanent footprints.

Guilleux said the first Quantum satellite will have eight downlink beams that can range from a minimum diameter of 600 kilometers to a maximum of one-third of the Earth’s surface (the larger the beam, the more dispersed the signal power), and eight independent uplink beams. Customers can split any of those eight beams into smaller sub-beams and follow assets such as ships and planes, he said. O’Connor said the satellite will have a total of 3.5 GHz of capacity, from which any individual downlink beam could support up to 1 GHz. The first Eutelsat Quantum will function just in Ku-band, but Guilleux said future iterations could support other frequencies, including both military and civilian Ka-band. He estimated the next satellite would launch around 2020 to 2021.

Guilleux said many of Eutelsat Quantum’s features have military satcom roots, and those carry over now for commercial applications. He said Eutelsat Quantum’s phased-array antenna can identify jammers and sources of interference by geo-localizing the source directly onboard the satellite, rather than by triangulation as it is usually done today. The satellite can also blot out a jammer by nulling coverage over that location, or excluding the spectrum the jammer is transmitting on from use.

Military customers are a major market for Eutelsat in selling Quantum capacity. Guilleux said the operator would go as far as designing Quantum hosted payloads on future satellites for government customers who desired them. Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in the U.K. is providing the spacecraft platform for the first Eutelsat Quantum satellite.