MCS – Reducing Risk, Improving Availability of Communications Satellites

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The small all-electric satellite system is suited to developing commercial and national operators requiring low-capacity volume or having limited bandwidth slots.

IAI creates a new niche in the geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites market, with a satellite that provides the same services as a full-size satellite, but supports less channels, thus applies to users with specific needs. The new Mini Communications Satellite, or MCS, was introduced at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Dubai.

Operating from GEO orbit, communications satellites are often large, heavy, and expensive to build and launch. That’s why they are suitable for operators that require large capacity and diverse needs. In parallel to our full-scale geo satellites programs, IAI has developed the concept for smaller, more agile communications satellites that performs the same functions at a much lower cost.

Mini Communications Satellite

Unlike the full-size communications satellites that weigh up to 10 tons and is carried as the primary payload on a large launcher, IAI’s new MCS weighs roughly 700 kg, carrying a digital communication payload weighing up to 200 kg. Due to its light weight, the satellite can be launched together with other satellites in ‘rideshare’ significantly lowering launch costs.

The Mini Communications Satellite (MCS) provides multi-zone communication services that cater best for government users with specific communications needs, or commercial operators that need quick response and agility. With flexible launch configurations, MCS makes an excellent choice, compared to large satellites that may take years to build, and deploy. The lightweight all-electric and fully digital satellites enable customers to launch a complete sovereign operation, initially at a lower capacity, gradually growing as the demand for their services increases, by configuring the original satellite to meet higher capacity or launch new satellites to the same space segment.

The MCS provides an agile platform developed and deployed with minimal risks, that can be software upgraded throughout its 14-years life in orbit, enabling users to adapt and configure the satellite to the user needs over time. IAI offers the MCS for about a third of the cost of the much larger and heavier communications satellites.

The MCS is fully digital system having flexible multi-band communication payload supporting a flexible application. With up to four steerable dish antennas with a maximum size of 2×2.5 meters, the satellite operates simultaneously in the KA/KU band (or others frequency bands), with eight active high-power amplifiers consuming up to 2,000 watt of power. Based on IAI’s heritage sub systems, the fully redundant platform ensures a 14-year mission at a high level of reliability. The satellite’s command systems and development architecture allow for applications loading from a ground station during the satellite’s in-space operation, to adjust and modify assignments in accordance with changing communication needs.

Reducing Risk, Increasing Availability

The all-digital payload is fully programmable using FPGA based digital hardware and a Software Defined Radio (SDR) platform supported with unique RF converters, enabling in-orbit mission frequency plan update.

The mission control architecture enables assigning different service providers with ‘virtual payloads’ service segments that can be fitted to the usage profile and needs over time.

Based on market needs and technological feasibility studies, IAI has entered the MCS concept development and will soon enter the market launch phase. While the MCS has fewer transponders, compared to the full-size satellite, the satellite enables customers to launch new services faster and with minimal risk. According to IAI simulations, a group of such satellites can perform the same service and scale as larger GEO communications satellites, when grouped at a single geosynchronous ‘slot’ in space.

The MCS is based on IAI’s long heritage of Amos and Dror – Israel’s National Communication Satellite – and Opstat and TecSAR reconnaissance and scientific research satellites, most of which were focused on compact, small satellites. Most of these capabilities were developed in-house by IAI, including the advanced digital communication payload and “space smartphone” to be integrated in the MCS, capabilities that provide the operators with flexibility throughout the satellite’s mission life.