Processor Being Tested Aboard Amazonas-2 Aimed at U.S. Military Customers

by

PARIS — A commercial model of an on-board processor aimed at military and commercial markets is expected to complete in-orbit checkout and be declared operational in May aboard the Amazonas-2 satellite owned by Hispasat of Spain, according to the processor’s manufacturer.

Thales Alenia Space España hopes to add the U.S. Defense Department to its list of customers following tests of the AmerHis-2 processor, which company officials say is compatible with military encryption protocols and allows military customers operational autonomy.

Also appealing to a military user is that AmerHis allows the user to conduct operations without interference from the satellite operator. The satellite operator does not have access to the encrypted packets, and users do not need to rely on central hubs for communications among their terminals.

The AmerHis — Advanced Multimedia Enhanced Regenerative Hispasat — processor was developed by an industrial consortium led by Thales Alenia Space with funding from the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA). A first-generation model is onboard the Amazonas-1 satellite, launched in 2004 into Hispasat’s 61 degrees west longitude slot over South America.

AmerHis permits broadband Internet Protocol links to user terminals that are able to communicate directly with each other inside one of four beams of Amazonas-1, covering North America, South America, Brazil and Europe.

Madrid-based Hispasat has conducted extensive trials of AmerHis with the Spanish Ministry of Defense, and with ESA also has demonstrated AmerHis capabilities to the German Defense Ministry. The NATO alliance, meanwhile, has tested AmerHis as part of the Coalition Warfare Interoperability Demonstration program.

Fernando Ortega, telecom systems director at Thales Alenia Space España, said the first-generation AmerHis processor works well but has been limited in its application by the fact that its Ku-band frequencies were not licensed for commercial use in the United States and France, among other nations.

With an upgraded AmerHis-2 now completing extensive testing on Amazonas-2, also at 61 degrees west, Thales Alenia Space hopes to find a broader market in the Americas, with the U.S. Defense Department being the biggest prospective customer. AmerHis-2 uses commercial Ku-band frequencies.

In an interview, Ortega said the work of Cisco Systems of San Jose, Calif., in demonstrating its Internet Router in Space processor, onboard the Intelsat 14 satellite at 14 degrees west, has helped prepare the market for AmerHis.

“We do not look at Cisco as a competitor,” Ortega said. “We look at them as an ally in trying to introduce this technology to the market. We hope to demonstrate that what we have with the second-generation AmerHis takes us beyond demonstration to the full commercial and operational use of it.”

Hispasat will be placing a third-generation AmerHis payload on the Hispasat AG-1 satellite now under construction and scheduled for launch in 2013 or 2014. Thales Alenia Space España is also counting on a satellite from startup operator OverHorizon of Sweden as an AmerHis customer. OverHorizon has selected Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and Thales Alenia Space to build the satellite, but questions remain over whether the project has cleared the necessary regulatory and financial hurdles.

A satellite being designed by the Norwegian and Spanish defense ministries as part of a project called Hisnorsat is also slated to carry an AmerHis payload. Hisnorsat has received support from the Spanish and Norwegian governments, and a contract for the satellite’s construction is expected before the end of the year.

The addition of an AmerHis payload covering the Middle East, Central Asia and northern Africa — probably aboard Hisnorsat or OverHorizon — is likely to make the service more attractive to military users than the current AmerHis over the Americas, Ortega said. But he added that the Amazonas-1 processor, despite being experimental, has won customers in Mexico and Argentina among operators of VPNs, or virtual private networks.

Satellite operators have long acknowledged the commercial potential of on-board processors, whether they be the kinds built by Cisco or Thales Alenia Space, or the processor furnished by Boeing for the three Spaceway satellites owned by commercial operators DirecTV and Hughes Communications of the United States.

But these operators have shied away from adopting the technology in part because it is new, and in part because it adds a substantial cost to the capital investment needed to build the satellite.

Ortega acknowledged this, and said the hardware needs to be made less expensively. But he said its advantages to ground customers in efficient use of bandwidth are a compensating factor.

“By recovering more of the signal in error-free transmissions, we can double the bandwidth available to a user and give that user up to seven times the transmission speed,” Ortega said.