SSTL Telesat LEO satellite graphic
Phase 1, Telesat’s prototype LEO satellite that launched in 2018, was supplied by SSTL. Credit: Telesat

WASHINGTON — Inflight connectivity provider Global Eagle will help Telesat design and test the operator’s low Earth orbit satellite constellation, the companies announced May 15.

Using Telesat’s recently launched Phase 1 LEO satellite, Telesat and Global Eagle will test connectivity for aviation and maritime users. Global Eagle will also help design user terminals, service offerings and marketing plans for the constellation, Telesat said.

Canada-based Telesat is designing a constellation of 117 satellites for broadband connectivity. Phase 1 LEO, a prototype satellite built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., launched in January on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Telesat has yet to select a manufacturer to build the operational satellites, but plans to do so in the coming months so that service can start by 2021.

“We are persuaded that Telesat’s consistent global coverage over the open ocean, polar regions and on high-latitude routes, their industry-leading latency of sub-50 milliseconds and their open architecture business model can make Telesat’s LEO platform a valuable solution component for our customers,” Global Eagle CEO Josh Marks said May 15 during a quarterly earnings call. “We will collaborate with Telesat on both the technology and commercial model for their new LEO platform.”

Passenger desires for internet access on aircraft and at sea have driven demand for high-throughput satellite (HTS) services to the point that some service providers have teamed with satellite operators to help design their spacecraft. Panasonic Avionics, a competitor to Global Eagle in both aviation and maritime, co-designed HTS payloads on Intelsat-29e, SES-15 and Intelsat-33e before leasing capacity on the satellites. In March, Panasonic said it co-designed the Apstar-6D satellite that APT Mobile Satcom Limited ordered from China Great Wall Industry Corp. and will lease some of its capacity for mobile internet service over China and the surrounding region.

Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg said in a statement that Telesat’s “collaboration with Global Eagle is further confirmation that the innovative design of Telesat’s LEO system offers many advantages to aeronautical and maritime markets.”

“We look forward to benefiting from Global Eagle’s expertise as Telesat works to optimize the service offerings and network capabilities of our LEO system,” Goldberg said.

Global Eagle and Telesat did not say whether their collaboration will result in Global Eagle leasing capacity on Telesat LEO. In preparation for the constellation, Telesat is signing up multiple partners to test its demonstration satellite, including, so far, maritime connectivity provider OmniAccess and Australian fleet operator Optus.

Global Eagle said it will test a newly developed Ka-band antenna with Telesat’s LEO satellite.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...