Viasat has planned for their global internet constellation to be in place by the end of 2022. Each of the satellites is supposed to offer around 1 terabit (1 Tbps) of network capacity. This is a large jump from what ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2 offered at 140 Gbps and 260 Gbps respectively. The first two of the three satellites are currently under construction at Viasat’s facility in Tempe, Arizona, with plans of the first satellite launching in 2021. The first satellite, ViaSat-3 Americas, will cover North and South America, with the second satellite, ViaSat-3 EMEA covering Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. With the third satellite, ViaSat-3 APAC being launched to cover Asia and the Pacific area, Viasat will likely become the first global internet service provider.
Dave Ryan is the President of Viasat’s space system division, which oversees the launch, construction and flight of the different satellites as part of the system. When asked what it takes to execute a program this big he explained that there are a large number of pieces that come together to make it all happen, including the spacecraft itself. Viasat partnered with Boeing Satellite Systems International for these three new satellites, just like they did with the ViaSat-2 satellite, all of them will be placed on the Boeing 702 platform. These 702 platforms have been used for multiple years for different satellites, but it is good for meeting unique requirements of satellites payloads.
The payload Viasat is being constructed in its facility in Arizona, consists of a wide range of components with receivers, transmitters, and antennas and will be bolted to a payload module which will then be made to fit perfectly into the 702 platform. Ryan said they are currently building up the payload for the first and second satellite and are using a practice “test bed” that will be similar to the real thing.
Ryan mentioned that even though all satellites are doing the same thing in different areas around the world, each of them are distinct in some way. The biggest challenge, besides creating satellites that were more powerful and better than the others was building a satellite that could:
Survive on top of a rocket being sent into space
Travel to the exact location it needed to be in geostationary orbit, 22,000 miles above the equator.
Last for 15+ years and not have any work done on it, other than electronically.
Endure extreme cold and extreme hot temperatures with the coolness of space and the hotness of the sun.
It would make sense that it would take years to plan and build an orbiting geostationary satellite without being able to repair it in space. This is different from almost any other machine that humans make for this reason.
Ground Systems and Launch Partners
Ionized Xenon gas is going to be propelling the ViaSat-3 satellites and will be all-electric just like ViaSat-2 satellites. Even though this method of travel is slower than using liquid propellant, it does allow more storage room for capacity-enhancing electronics. With this in mind, Viasat plans to use larger rockets like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and ULA’s Atlas V which can get the satellite and payload much closer to its orbital spot. This could save months in the time it would take between the launch and the time the service would actually start.
The satellites aren’t the only impressive part to this system, there is also an advanced ground system for the ViaSat-3 constellation. New satellites with new technology mean redesigned earth stations known as Satellite Access Nodes (SAN). These nodes connect a collection of user terminals through a satellite to the Service Delivery Platform. SAN includes all components needed to receive and transmit signals to and from the satellite, with a compact Ka-band satellite antenna.
In the past, Viasat’s ground gateways have been huge, but for the ViaSat-3 constellation the SANs are much smaller and more distributed. This means that there will be no more buildings full of servers and backup generators. The earth stations will be more cost effective this way and therefore allowing Viasat to deploy more. In the same way that more cell towers in an area will improve cell reception, more stations will improve the performance of a satellite network. With more earth stations around there will be overlapping and redundancy which will protect signals if bad weather disturbs one of the SANs.
Billions of people around the world don’t have any access to the internet. Viasat plans to change that with this new satellite constellation that will be launched and will give everyone the opportunity to experience the internet.
Many of the populations around the world cannot afford a home internet like individuals in America and Europe can, and Viasat understands this, but there is work being done for an alternative Community Wifi service. Over a million people in Mexico have already begun experiencing Community Wifi, and they have done this by purchasing small bits of bandwidth at an affordable price to be able to get online.
With this satellite constellation set up, the ability to connect to aircraft in the air, ships at sea or islands in the ocean will be possible. Anywhere terrestrial networks were not able to go before there will be the ability to. Such connectivity does already exist, but it works off older satellites and doesn't have near the coverage that this new system will have across the world. There will be more uniform coverage and it will improve speeds and data capacity tremendously. It won’t only help and meet the needs of people and businesses, but it will also enable the U.S government and other allies to take the opportunity to work on artificial intelligence and cloud based applications that can connect to senior leader aircraft and work over a highly resilient network.
There are countless advantages to this new system that Viasat is bringing to the world. Some have even called it “the new space race” to connect the entire world via satellite. Viasat has already taken the steps to lead in this, and it will most definitely change the world.