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Broadband Satellite Switches Rockets

July 23, 2009

The UK’s Hylas satellite, which hopes to help close the digital gap by supplying space-born broadband Internet access for remote areas, is making a last minute rocket change.

On Wednesday, Avanti Communications signed a contract with Arianespace to use either its Ariane 5 or Soyuz launchers.

The inaccessibility of broadband has been a great inconvenience to those in rural and other outlying areas. Hylas will fix this problem by providing 2Mbs Internet connections to these areas where it was previously unobtainable.

Originally, the satellite was set to launch on a new U.S. rocket known as a Falcon 9, but unfortunately its launch schedule has been postponed as it is still preparing for the initial qualification flights that it was intended to take prior to taking Hylas into orbit.

The long expected decision to switch launchers will allow Avanti to remove doubts about its viability among customers and prospective investors, according to a statement made by Avanti to shareholders and the London Stock Exchange.

David Williams, Avanti’s chief executive, says his broadband company has finally raised the extra money it needed to buy Arianespace’s vehicles. They may be more expensive, but Williams claims the peace of mind in flying tried and tested vehicles is well worth it.

“We’re a classic example of a scrappy British start-up company,” he told BBC News.

“A couple of years ago we had very little money. It’s turned out that our market was very much bigger than many of us thought and I now have a blue-chip shareholder base that is prepared to pay for the certainty and reliability of the world’s best launch vehicle.”

Hylas (Highly Adaptable Satellite) is a geostationary communications satellite engaged in a commercialized venture that grew out of a space technology program within the European Space Agency. The British government has invested heavily in the project.

Its payload will automatically regulate the amount of power and bandwidth necessary to match the highs and lows in demand for net access.

The satellite is currently under construction and should be ready for launch next year.

The UK divisions of Europe’s largest space company EADS Astrium, and a commercial arm of the Indian space agency Antrix (ISRO), are sharing the preparation.

The satellite weighing 2.7-tons would operate in the Ka radio band and provide broadband services to around 350,000 subscribers.

Despite having yet to launch the first satellite, a second one is already being planned. Avanti hopes to secure the funding for Hylas-2 by the end of the year, which is expected to be able to support up to one million customers.

An even larger platform could then follow suit. A satellite they are calling Hercules would be capable of delivering 10Mbs (megabits per second) connections to double the subscribers of Hylas-2 and also 50Mbs connections to a smaller group of people.

Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana, the Guiana Space Center, will be providing the Ariane 5 or Soyuz launcher that will be used to send Hylas-1 into orbit.

“This is a success for Europe because it is a European [rocket] which is going to launch one of the most innovative European telecommunications projects,” said Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace (the company that operates Europe’s launch services).

The government’s Universal Service Commitment to make sure that every home in the UK can get 2Mbps broadband by 2012 was re-emphasized in the recent report from Digital Britain.

Such an undertaking will require a broad range of technologies, such as DSL, wireless, and fiber. The report said satellites are a key part in delivering broadband to rural and remote areas.

The long established Eutelsat space communications company will be competing against Avanti with a digital-divide-busting Ka-band satellite of its own for Europe, delivering 10Mbs through its Tooway service. Eutelsat says its KA-SAT is also scheduled for launch in 2010.

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