Telesat commits to LEO Lightspeed fleet
February 10, 2021
By Chris Forrester
Ottawa-based Telesat has committed to its own mega-constellation of Low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites. Telesat needed to put its own financial affairs in order first as well as review its potential suppliers.
Thales Alenia Space gets the prime contract for the LEO fleet which is called Lightspeed. The fleet would comprise 298 satellites with services starting in 2023. The first satellite would launch in “roughly” 2022 and serve the higher Canadian latitudes and commence services during 2023.
Dan Goldberg, President & CEO, told journalists that the contract was worth about $3 billion although the whole commitment was worth nearer $5 billion and was “far and away” the biggest contract Telesat ever announced.
Specifically, Lightspeed has been optimised to serve the fast-growing broadband connectivity requirements of fixed and mobile network operators, aeronautical and maritime users, enterprise customers and governments. Operating under Telesat’s global Ka-band priority spectrum rights, the first Lightspeed satellites are expected to be launched in approximately two years, with customer beta testing beginning shortly thereafter and commercial services commencing in the second half of 2023.
“Demand for broadband connectivity was surging globally, and this Telesat investment would bring its network closer to its customers,” said Goldberg.
However, reaching domestic consumers directly was not Telesat’s strategy but would work with telcos and other business-to-business wholesale customers who in turn would supply customers directly.
“I am not troubled by the likes of OneWeb and our approach is to deliver faster connectivity,” said Goldberg, “and we’ll have greater links between our Geo fleet. We will be timely to market. Canada will be a significant market for us, but a significant minority helped by the Canadian government’s support for bridging the digital divide.”
Lightspeed will employ laser links between the orbiting fleet both for secure inter-satellite communications but also to reduce the number of ground-based gateways.
“This is an ambitious programme but our intention is to provide highly competitive services to clients, especially to communities in terms of costs and make the service much more affordable. Back-haul, aero and maritime are key targets, as well as the wider audiences,” Goldberg said, and added he was confident that antennas at affordable prices would be available in all the key verticals.
Goldberg said that Thales expected to turn out at least one 700 kgs satellite per week from its existing French facility but there would be expansion in Europe and a facility in Canada to help with output.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will provide at least “some” of the launch capacity for the new fleet.
Telesat said that these Lightspeed craft will carry sophisticated phased-array antennas on each satellite that are combined with advanced beam hopping technology to create approximately 135,000 beams that can dynamically focus multiple Gb/s of capacity – an order of magnitude higher than any other system – into demand hot spots like remote communities, large airports or major sea ports.