Design of Rival’s Satellite Has ViaSat Asking Questions

by

PARIS — ViaSat Inc. officials have begun looking at whether patent-pending technology they developed for their ViaSat-1 Ka-band broadband satellite is being used by satellite builder Space Systems/Loral to construct Hughes Network Systems’ Jupiter satellite, which looks like a ViaSat-1 twin, ViaSat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg said.

In an Oct. 1 interview, Dankberg cautioned that ViaSat is not alleging that Palo Alto, Calif.-based Loral violated non-disclosure agreements and used ViaSat intellectual property to win the Hughes contract for Jupiter.

But he said Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat spent considerable resources designing ViaSat-1, submitted several aspects of it for patent protection and, at the time, were the only ones in the industry talking about such a satellite.

ViaSat-1 and Jupiter are both Ka-band satellites designed to provide throughput that, up to now, has been considered unreachable — 100 gigabits per second of capacity for each satellite. Even higher capacity has been built into ViaSat-1, which because of a modification of its operating license will now be able to provide 130 gigabits per second.

“Before we announced it, no one was talking about 100-gigabit-per-second satellites,” Dankberg said. “We worked to protect some of the technology and we have patents pending. It’s fair to say the work we put into the design of our satellite far exceeds what most satellite customers do” before they approach prospective manufacturers.

“It’s possible that Hughes looked at the same problems as we did and arrived at the same solutions on their own,” Dankberg said. “Right now we are just in fact-finding mode. We want to understand it. Superficially, one might say” that ViaSat-1 and Jupiter are similar to a point that raises questions.

ViaSat-1 is scheduled for launch in early 2011, and Jupiter is to be launched in 2012.

In an Oct. 2 response to Space News inquiries, Space Systems/Loral President John Celli said: “We’re aware of ViaSat’s concerns and are cooperatively engaged with them in the fact-finding that Mark described in his comments yesterday. Since it is our policy and practice to treat our customers’ intellectual property and confidential information with the same level of care that we treat our own IP and confidential information, we are confident there is not an issue with the IP used in the design of any other broadband satellite. [Space Systems/Loral] uses its own intellectual property and the experience it has gained from over 50 years of satellite manufacturing to design satellites that meet our customer’s performance requirements.”