Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck
A European Space Agency (ESA) project to build a universal telecommunications satellite is a go, as the agency officially signed a deal with private industry partners to build the new, 3.5 ton, completely reconfigurable spacecraft on Thursday.
According to BBC News reports, the telecom satellite will be called Quantum, and while nearly all of these probes launch with their ground coverage pattern and operating frequency parameters locked in place, Quantum will be able to have them adjusted while in orbit.
The ESA is teaming with private-sector firms such as Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat and the manufacturing firm Airbus Defense and Space from Blagnac, France to develop the satellite. Each of the parties involved in the Quantum project signed an official agreement Thursday at the Harwell Science Campus in Oxfordshire.
Quantum will be created by Airbus at its Portsmouth factory, and then integrated into the spacecraft chassis at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in Guildford, the BBC said. The satellite, which is expected to be launched in 2018, can change its coverage area, frequency, and power use at any time, and can even assume the role of another, failed satellite.
Quantum to be used for broadband data, phone traffic
One of the reasons the new telecom satellite will have this capability is so it can use advanced, flat, phased-array antennas capable of changing their shape electronically – a big departure from curved, pre-shaped mechanical receivers typically used in traditional satellites.
“The beauty of Quantum is that it uses active antennas on the uplink to the spacecraft and on the downlink to the Earth,” Airbus representative James Hinds told BBC News. “Active means the coverage – where you point – can be moved around at the touch of a telecommand.”
This will be accomplished “through a process called software definition,” he added. For example, “this means… you can put power where the market demands it, or, and this does happen, you can change your coverage to mitigate interference in places where someone is unintentionally, or even intentionally, jamming your signal.”
While the initial mission parameters for Quantum have yet to be fully defined, the BBC said that the satellite is expected to work primarily in the Ku frequency band. It will likely be used for the transmission of data, video, telephone calls, and broadband access to static and mobile customers, and could even be used for television signals if necessary.
“We are talking to governments, we’re talking to maritime companies, we’re talking to data operators – and we will focus Quantum on those users where we feel the eagerness is greatest,” Michel de Rosen, chairman and CEO of Eutelsat, told the BBC. “Our company is working in an increasingly competitive market with many more players, and to stay ahead of the curve we need to innovate, and Quantum is the clear innovation.”
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