Service business

Viasat adds polar coverage to its ground station-as-a-service business

TAMPA, Fla. — Viasat plans to deploy an antenna in Sweden in April to give its ground station commercial polar coverage for the first time, the California-based satellite operator said Feb. 9.

Arctic Space Technologies, a Swedish satellite communications provider, is hosting the ground station under a deal that also co-locates a Viasat Real-Time Earth (RTE) facility in a data center for the first time to improve the operations.

Part of a growing trend towards space as a service in the industry, the RTE network allows satellite operators to deliver low latency products without investing in a dedicated antenna system.

Viasat is setting up its first high-latitude facility for the service to meet growing demand from Earth observation companies deploying satellites in sun-synchronous orbits, Viasat RTE Vice President John Williams said. SpaceNews in an interview.

It is the latest installation in an expanding network that completed its first full year of operation in 2021, having deployed antennas in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Argentina, Australia and in Ghana.

The next branches on the list are in South Africa and northern Japan, he said, as the company aims to complete its global footprint this year.

“After deploying these two antennas by this summer, we plan to go to southern Japan, Malaysia, Canada [and] maybe second antennas at some of the current sites,” he said.

Viasat hopes to find other opportunities to collocate antennas with data centers, following a trend that Amazon helped start when it announced its AWS Ground Station service in 2018.

Installing antenna sites near data centers allows companies to process data from satellites soon after it arrives on the ground, improving throughput and latency by reducing the amount that needs to be transmitted to the cloud for a further processing.

“The challenge is that data centers aren’t everywhere you need them for the geography of a ground station as a service,” Williams added.

Viasat is also evaluating how co-locating data centers is beneficial to its antenna business.

“How does this site operate differently from our other sites that are not located in data centers?” He asked.

“Does this mean we need to move faster to edge computing? These are questions that still await us. »

Relay Foundation

Viasat expects the first of three next-generation ViaSat-3 high-throughput broadband satellites to be launched into geostationary orbit.”end of summer.”

The full ViaSat-3 constellation will give the company global coverage, which Williams said its RTE network will use to provide data relay service to low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

“Just as ViaSat-3 would have the ability to relay information from one point on the ground to another point on the ground – or back and forth to aircraft in our mobility business – we will add the ability to be able to talk to satellites in low Earth orbit,” he said.

The LEO capability would allow Viasat’s Real-Time Earth customers to further reduce latency to support new business opportunities in Earth observation and other sectors.

Canadian startup Kepler Communications and other companies are also planning in-orbit relay networks to improve satellite latency.

Plans to expand RTE’s services come against a backdrop of major changes in the broader market for ground stations.

“What I see is that as new customers come in, they want more of a ground vendor,” Williams said.

“So part of the challenge ahead is how do you integrate with those who may have been your competitors in the past to support these customers and these new business models?”

Japanese debris removal startup Astroscale, for example, said last year that it had integrated Viasat RTE with three other ground station providers for its ongoing demonstration missions in LEO.

Operators using more inter-satellite links to reduce their dependence on ground infrastructure also threaten to change the shape of the global ground station market.

“I think that makes up for it,” Williams said, “maybe you’re not cultivating as much ground as we do now in the future when you have more inter-satellite links.

“But I think they are complementary. You still have to command and control the spaceship.

According to Williams, operators will most likely continue to pay a premium to move data in space rather than on land in some cases, which will make their use of ground stations guided by “the customer’s concept of operations and its Business Economics “.

He declined to discuss how Viasat’s RTE business could scale further by adding satellites and infrastructure from Inmarsat, the UK satellite operator the company is seeking to buy through a $7.3 billion deal.