LeoSat Awaits Verdict on Constellation’s Feasibility

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SINGAPORE – LeoSat LLC, which is planning a global low-orbiting satellite constellation of Ka-band satellites to provide high-speed data transfers using intersatellite links, expects an initial verdict on its system architecture and cost by July following the completion of a feasibility study.

Vern Fotheringham
Vern Fotheringham. Credit: Kymeta video capture

Vern Fotheringham, chief executive of Arlington, Virginia-based LeoSat, said the company has recently hired boutique investment firm Axiom Capital Management of Mt. Kisco, New York, to coordinate an initial round of financing.

“It is a modest A-round funding just to get us through the design phase,” Fotheringham said here June 1 during the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum. “In parallel we will start working up the B-round, which will be much larger and will lead us to an initial satellite contract.”

LeoSat has hired Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, which is prime contractor for both the current Globalstar and future Iridium low-orbiting narrowband constellations, to assess LeoSat’s plan.

LeoSat is expected to compete the eventual satellite prime contract, which in the current design will begin with 80 satellites and then move to around 120 depending on the exact orbit selected.

“They are looking at all the basic issues” of the constellation, Fotheringham said. “It all looks promising but we have made no commitment to a spacecraft vendor and we are keeping our options open.”

The Thales Alenia Space work, he said, will include such issues as power-flux density measurements – what adjustments to power the LeoSat satellites would need to make, especially at the equator, to avoid interference with geostationary-orbit satellites in Ka-band – and interference-related issues as well as regulatory considerations.

International regualtors agreed more than a decade ago that low-orbiting constellations can be designed to coexist with geostationary-orbit satellites using the same frequency by raising and lowering their power output. But the geostationary satellites maintain a regulatory priority, meaning the burden of non-inerference lies mainly with the low-orbiting systems.

LeoSat is not an Internet-for-all system. It is designed for large corporations or governments that want to move huge stores of data around the globe at high speed. The satellites will be equipped with terminals to receive and forward data to other spacecraft to quicken delivery to the destination.

Fotheringham said that optical links – one option being considered for the satellite-to-satellite transmission – are faster in space than fiber-optic cable on Earth because it does away with the impediment of glass.

Unlike other low-orbiting constellations, LeoSat does not have the challenge of assembling an orbital architecture that spends much of its time unemployed over jungles, polar ice regions, deserts and the middle of the oceans. As a kind of fiber network in space, LeoSat is not serving those customers below anyway.

He also said LeoSat viewed itself as a complement to existing fixed satellite service operators. “Our system starts where all the existing FSS services end,” he said.

Fotheringham declined to be pinned down on system deployment dates but said that LeoSat expected to be about ready to contract for its satellite development within about a year.