Teleports groaning under the strain of proliferating satellites
WASHINGTON — In the past, Wayne Haubner told his team at VT iDirect that future satellite hubs would need to be 10 times as capable as their predecessors at one-tenth the price. That improvement no longer seems adequate.
“I think I need 50 times the performance at one-tenth the cost,” Haubner, VT iDirect senior vice president for engineering and emerging technologies, said March 6 at the Satellite 2017 conference here. “The satellite capabilities are growing so fast that we have to be very aggressive at being able to leverage those capabilities.”
New satellites promise 10 or 100 times the capacity of their predecessors, but teleports can’t grow 10 or 100-fold. In fact, they need to shrink.
Like the evolution of laptop computers, “they need to become smaller, more capable and cost less,” Haubner told SpaceNews.
Companies are investing in advanced technology to adapt to changes in the market, including high throughput satellites in geosynchronous orbit, small satellites in low Earth orbit and planned large constellations of communications and Earth observation satellites.
“Constellations currently under development require significant economic effort in designing and developing the space segment,” said Marco Brancati, Telespazio chief technology officer. Most of the firms building the new constellations are not interested in investing in the associated ground infrastructure, he added. Telespazio is eager to offer the ground segment as a service for those constellations and other operators.
Panelists agreed that far more teleports will be needed. “We are going to go from a handful of teleports around the world to dozens or hundreds,” Haubner said.
To save money, the teleport operators will rely on advanced technology including digital beam forming antennas, cloud computing and software defined modems.
The small satellite market is helping to speed up adoption of new technology because entrepreneurs launching $1 million satellites to last two years are far more willing to take risks than operators of expensive communications satellites designed to last 15 years, said Stuart Daughtridge, vice president of advanced technology for Kratos defense and security solutions.
“We get new technology operating in months in small satellites and cubesats,” Daughtridge said. “Then we can start to introduce it in the geosynchronous communications market.”