Germany Designing Satellite for Commercial Partnership

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PARIS — The German Aerospace Center, DLR, is midway through design studies of a telecommunications research satellite to include advanced Ka-band broadcast technologies as part of a partnership with a commercial satellite operator, according to DLR officials.

The satellite, called Heinrich Hertz, would use the Small Geo satellite platform being developed by OHB Technology of Bremen, Germany, plus a payload developed by Tesat-Spacecom of Backnang and other gear from Astrium GmbH of Ottobrunn.

The project would be the latest demonstration that the German government, which for years had steered clear of satellite telecommunications, intends to maintain a national capability in the sector and to help German industry maintain its telecommunications competitiveness. DLR has been the principal backer of the Small Geo project, one of whose goals is to maintain in Germany a capacity to build commercial telecommunications satellites.

In addition to the advanced telecommunications-research instruments, the satellite would carry a commercial telecommunications payload for the private-sector operator.

Siegfried Voigt, head of DLR’s national program group and project manager for the Heinrich Hertz mission, said a Phase-A design begun in mid-2009 with initial contracts to OHB, Tesat-Spacecom and Astrium is expected to be completed by June 30. In a Jan. 22 response to Space News questions, Voigt said negotiations on how much payload will be reserved for the commercial operator and how much for DLR’s technology-demonstration hardware are continuing.

Voigt said DLR is reviewing several possible orbital slots, with 30 degrees east a preferred position to test high-speed Ka-band transmissions, especially to mobile terminals. The project’s current schedule calls for a 2014 launch.

In a DLR presentation by Voigt and project system engineer AnkePagels, the mission is described as a way to qualify future commercial telecommunications equipment that is viewed as too risky to be adopted by commercial satellite fleet operators, who “are generally very reserved about introducing new technologies.”

In addition to future commercial applications, DLR officials said the project could demonstrate Ka-band communications systems for future use on Earth observation and science missions that require high-volume data transmissions back to Earth.

DLR hopes to use the same basic business model as that being employed by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the Alphasat large-satellite platform and the Small Geo platform.

The first Alphasat flight model will carry experimental payloads plus a commercial mobile-communications package for mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat of London, which is sharing with ESA and the French space agency, CNES, the cost of developing, integrating and launching the satellite.

The first Small Geo satellite, which was also financed in part by ESA, will be launched in 2012 for Hispasat of Spain, which will share the satellite’s use with a separate suite of technology-demonstration equipment.

ESA is also looking to a public-private partnership for its European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) system, with a partnership with a private-sector operator to be concluded in 2010.

DLR said its ongoing national telecommunications research program has produced nearly 30 technologies and that several of them will be selected to fly on Heinrich Hertz.

The technologies viewed as promising for the satellite mission include Ka-band intersatellite communications antennas with electronic beam-forming; a Ka-band multi-spot-beam antenna; ceramic microwave circuits; a liquid-crystal antenna array; and a miniature Ka-band traveling wave tube amplifier.

A separate experiment being considered, called MoSaKa, is a mobile Ka-band ground terminal designed to operate in disaster areas where the communications grid is out of service or nonexistent.

Early financing of the Heinrich Hertz project was provided by DLR from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology following a decision by Germany’s Bundestag, or parliament. Voigt declined to speculate on how the costs of building and launching Heinrich Hertz might be divided by DLR and the selected satellite operator.