Long-awaited ViaSat-1, Touted As DSL Competitor, is in Orbit

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PARIS — ViaSat Corp.’s ViaSat-1 satellite, which the company says will reshape the competition with DSL in providing broadband to consumers, was successfully launched Oct. 20 aboard an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket and was reported healthy in orbit by ViaSat and the satellite’s builder, Space Systems/Loral.

ViaSat-1 is the second of a new generation of satellites that, by employing the largely unused Ka-band portion of the radio spectrum and slicing up its coverage into dozens of spot beams, will deliver a total of 140 gigabits per second of throughput capacity. That is 14 times the throughput of Hughes Electronics Corp.’s Spaceway 3 satellite, which until earlier this year was the record-holder for consumer broadband capacity.

The first of this new generation of high-throughput satellites, the Ka-Sat spacecraft owned by Eutelsat of Paris that will use ViaSat-built ground terminals to provide consumer broadband in Europe, entered commercial operations in May. Ka-Sat has a throughput of about 70 gigabits per second.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat Corp. has not hidden the importance of ViaSat-1 to the company’s business. Once operational, starting in January, ViaSat-1 will enable ViaSat’s WildBlue consumer broadband service to aggressively sign up subscribers in those high-demand regions where WildBlue’s current satellite capacity is sold out.

For ViaSat, there is little time to lose. Germantown, Md.-based Hughes has ordered a spacecraft similar to ViaSat-1, called Jupiter, and plans to launch it in mid-2012. For the past two years or so, in large part because of Spaceway 3, Hughes has been able to expand its HughesNet broadband service in those same high-demand regions where WildBlue has been on the sidelines.

ViaSat-1’s launch came several months later than planned, first because of an unusual incident during testing, when a hydraulic pump leaked fluid onto the spacecraft. Later, the Proton rocket was grounded following an August failure, forcing a delay in the launch date.

Weighing 6,739.5 kilograms at launch, ViaSat-1 is the heaviest commercial satellite ever placed into orbit by ILS, the Reston, Va.-based commercial launch arm of Proton manufacturer Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow.

ViaSat and Space Systems/Loral said ViaSat-1 was sending signals indicating normal vital signs shortly after separation from the Proton rocket’s Breeze-M upper stage, and that it subsequently deployed its solar arrays. Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., is also building Hughes’ Jupiter craft.

ViaSat-1 will operate in geostationary orbit at 115 degrees west longitude, where it is expected to arrive in late December. ViaSat said at least some commercial service will be carried by ViaSat-1 starting in December. The satellite carries 63 spot beams to be trained over the United States, mainly in those areas where WildBlue has already found high demand; and nine over Canada.

The Canadian capacity is owned by satellite fleet operator Telesat of Canada, which has leased it to Xplornet, Canada’s biggest satellite broadband service provider.

ViaSat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg has staked his professional reputation and his company’s fortunes on the proposition that a satellite brimming with bandwidth and aimed at the highly populated regions of the United States will successfully compete with DSL. With enough bandwidth on orbit, Dankberg has said, satellite broadband will move out of its rural enclave to go head-to-head with DSL even in suburban areas where cable is not present.

“ViaSat-1 is designed to transform the economics and quality of service that satellite broadband can provide,” Dankberg said in an Oct. 20 statement.

Dankberg’s belief was so strong that he secured ViaSat board approval to build ViaSat-1 when WildBlue — then a ViaSat customer — did not act quickly enough to secure additional satellite bandwidth. In addition to running counter to Dankberg’s vision of what satellite broadband is all about, WildBlue’s hesitation meant sales of ViaSat satellite terminals — the company’s historic core business — were slowing.

ViaSat subsequently purchased WildBlue and is now invested in the entire satellite broadband chain — satellite operation, ground-equipment manufacturing and service provision.

 

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