TYSONS, Va. — Intelsat is producing a new flat panel antenna that enables moving vehicles to use broadband services from the company’s geostationary satellites and from SpaceX’s Starlink network in low Earth orbit.

The phased array electronically steered antenna was installed on the roof of a sports utility vehicle for demonstrations at an Intelsat investor day event Nov. 30.

Intelsat operates a fleet of 58 geostationary communications satellites “but we are now partnering and offering multi-orbit capabilities to our customers,” said CEO David  Wajsgras. 

The company also is working with Eutelsat OneWeb for multi-orbit broadband services aimed at commercial airlines

“Starlink has disrupted the industry in a good way,” said Wajsgras. The geostationary satellite market started changing about five years ago, he said. “A lot of that was driven by customer demands and a lot of it was driven by the new space companies,” he added. “It has raised everyone’s game.”

Many sectors of the commercial and government markets sare demanding multi-orbit solutions, said Wajsgras. They want the low-latency connectivity with minimal lag, even though they have issues with LEO satellites such as the congestion they create in orbit, “and they also want the reliability and consistency of GEO service.”

Antenna has to be ruggedized

Ray Lindenmayer, Intelsat’s director of business development, said the multi-orbit flat panel antenna on display at the event is in production and about a dozen of them have been sold to DoD customers. 

To make the antennas interoperable with Starlink, Intelsat buys the modems from SpaceX and integrates them. Under the agreement, these antennas can only be sold to DoD and there are some exceptions for other U.S. government agencies. 

Lindenmayer said the antennas will be offered to military users under the new Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (PLEO) Satellite-Based Services contract run by the Defense Information Systems Agency and the U.S. Space Force. 

Military vehicles can’t use a commercial Starlink terminal because it’s not rugged enough, he said. DoD wants terminals that meet the environmental specifications required for combat and they also want redundancy so they’re not dependent on just one vendor. 

The antenna has an Ethernet interface to connect directly with laptops and military communications systems. 

A similar antenna could be produced in the future to tap Amazon’s forthcoming Project Kuiper constellation. “We’re talking to them now,” said Lindenmayer. “We are big into multi-orbit.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...