Hispasat cites inter-satellite links as pivotal for LeoSat investment
WASHINGTON — Inter-satellite links, a technology that has given some of LeoSat’s would-be investors pause, were actually what convinced Hispasat to invest in the low-Earth-orbit constellation startup earlier this month, according to Hispasat’s CEO.
In a July 18 interview, Carlos Espinós said Hispasat sees applications for satellite broadband from both geostationary and low Earth orbits, but views LeoSat’s proposed constellation of 84 LEO spacecraft as just what corporate customers will want.
“Compared with other LEO solutions that are alive or are trying to be alive in the short to medium term, LeoSat will have links from end to end without the need of landing or going through gateways or similar kinds of ground segment infrastructure,” Espinós told SpaceNews in describing key differentiators.
Based in Spain with a fleet of 11 satellites, Hispasat’s business leans 60 percent data connectivity, 40 percent broadcast, making the company more exposed to changes in broadband than many operators like SES or Eutelsat with the opposite revenue mix. Espinós said Hispasat’s revenues have trended toward an increase in connectivity and a decrease in broadcast over the last year.
“The needs of end users in terms of speed, bandwidth and price are hugely different from the requirements that we have lived in in the past,” he said. “One way or another, all players — and not only satellite operators — have to bring value to solutions we put in place in order to cover these requirements.”
Last year, LeoSat mentioned inter-satellite links as a feature that made investors nervous, leading the company to plan two demo satellites so it could test them out. After Sky Perfect JSAT of Japan became an investor in May 2017, the two companies vetted the technology on the ground convincingly enough to forgo the demo spacecraft, LeoSat CEO Mark Rigolle told SpaceNews.
Not every constellation under development plans to include inter-satellite links. OneWeb’s constellation of at least 900 satellites won’t include the links out of concern they may create regulatory barriers. Telesat does plan to include inter-satellite links on its proposed constellation of 117 satellites, as does SpaceX for its Starlink constellation of over 4,000 satellites.
Espinós said LeoSat’s constellation, anticipated to launch in 2021, is “the best satellite solution in terms of latency” Hispasat has found. Echoing LeoSat’s own comments, Espinós said LeoSat’s low latency should compete effectively with fiber, while offering links from 50 megabits per second to multiple gigabits per second to users. That LeoSat won’t need a large network of terrestrial gateways “implies a level of security higher than other kinds of satellite connectivity that we find in the market also,” he added.
Espinós confirmed Hispasat’s investment is “absolutely the same” as JSAT’s, including capacity resale rights. Neither company has disclosed the size of the investment.
JSAT’s business, being heavily focused on the Asia Pacific, has “absolutely no overlap” with Hispasat, whose focus is on Europe and the Americas, he said.
LeoSat is designing its constellation with European manufacturer Thales Alenia Space, who is positioned to build the system when LeoSat signs a firm contract. Hispasat, which is partly owned by the Spanish government’s Center for the Development of Industrial Technology, has sought to involve Spanish suppliers for its spacecraft. Hispasat’s most recent satellite, Hispasat-30W-6, included a photonics receiver from DAS Photonics of Valencia, Spain, meant to reduce the satellite’s mass and increase throughput better than microwave components.
Espinós said Hispasat has no mandate to include Spanish technology in its satellites, but likes to use its position as a medium-sized fleet operator to boost Spain’s space sector. Regarding LeoSat’s constellation, Espinós said Hispasat will seek opportunities for Spanish suppliers, but only if they can match or exceed other options and if LeoSat is willing to include them.
“We have in our DNA to promote as much as possible the Spanish industry,” he said. “If we have the possibility to do that in the right market conditions, we will. But at the end it is under the total responsibility of LeoSat to manage all their relationships with the manufacturer’s suppliers.”
Hispasat’s investment in LeoSat doesn’t take the place of any geostationary satellites, and Hispasat still intends to replace all of its GEO satellites as they retire, he said. For consumer broadband, Espinós said Hispasat is evaluating other technologies, namely very high throughput GEO satellites.
“To say that we are 100 percent certain about what will happen in the future in the satellite market with different kinds of services is very difficult. What is clear is we have our own strategy, and what we think is that the future of satellite infrastructure will be a hybrid solution — a combination of GEO, LEO and possibly other kinds of infrastructures,” he said.