Telesat Lightspeed aiming to break ground early next year

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TAMPA, Fla. — Landing stations that can connect to Telesat’s planned low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband network will start being built in spring 2023, according to an executive for the Canadian satellite operator.

Danish equipment supplier Cobham SATCOM plans to install the first of 30 global landing stations in Canada, Telesat LEO landing station and user terminal director Aneesh Dalvi said after announcing their partnership Feb. 1.

Cobham SATCOM built the landing station for testing the Telesat Phase 1 prototype that was launched to LEO in January 2018, and is also in the process of replacing most of the ground infrastructure for U.S.-based satellite operator Globalstar.

Telesat’s landing stations will be based on Cobham SATCOM’s TRACKER Gateway series, with each comprising multiple Ka-band antennas depending on the topography. 

Under the agreement, Cobham SATCOM will make, integrate and install the tracking antennas that Telesat will need to land signals from a planned constellation of 298 satellites.

The ground infrastructure will be critical for providing the 15 terabits per second (Tbps) of global capacity that Telesat aims to offer with its full constellation.

Those plans hit a stumbling block last year, however, with Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg saying Nov. 5 that its satellite maker Thales Alenia Space had run into pandemic-related supply chain issues that are delaying production.

Telesat said it will need an extension to meet regulatory commitments made with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission as a result, because it no longer expects to able to deploy half the constellation by Nov. 3, 2023.

Dalvi told SpaceNews that the magnitude of the manufacturing delay is still unknown as Thales Alenia Space engages with the hundreds of suppliers on the project for ways to mitigate the issues.

Telesat, which became a public company Nov. 19, has also not yet fully secured the final $2 billion of the LEO constellation’s $5 billion cost.

From the ground up

Telesat is moving full steam ahead with the LEO network’s ground infrastructure despite the space segment delays.

The Canadian operator has announced significant capacity commitments with Canada’s government in return for financial support, and Dalvi said the company expects to get regulatory clearances this year to build its first landing station in the country.

Discussions about setting up landing stations elsewhere are in the works and at “different stages for different countries,” he said, adding that there will be “some in Europe and in Australia” because Telesat needs sites in northerly and southerly latitudes to support initial launches.

The constellation is being designed with optical inter-satellite links (OSL), which reduces its reliance on ground infrastructure to land traffic. 

“Because we have the [OSL] mesh on all the satellites, we can provide service anywhere in the world with only one landing station to begin with,” Dalvi said.

However, he said “each OSL hop” adds about 5-10 milliseconds of latency, depending on the geography. 

That makes it challenging to stay within the company’s 50-millisecond latency target “if you have to backhaul the traffic over the OSL mesh halfway around the world or something like that,” he said.

Dalvi estimates it will take Telesat and Cobham SATCOM about three to four months to set up a landing station after clearing all regulatory hurdles.

Their agreement includes the option to deploy more than 30 landing stations if demand calls for it.

He said Telesat Lightspeed has also chosen a user terminal supplier, but declined to discuss details.