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SES talks SES-17 launch

October 21, 2021

By Chris Forrester

SES is using Arianespace to launch its latest high-tech satellite on October 22nd. In anticipation of the launch, SES held a round table meeting with some of the key players in the preparation and build of the satellite.

Herve Derrey, EVP Space at Thales Group, told delegates that the SES satellite was one of what will be a growing trend over the next few years and with considerable onboard flexibility.

“By 2030 some 75 per cent of Geo satellites will have at least some onboard flexibility,” he said, adding that 180 Geo satellites will be launched over the next 10 years.

The new satellite – the largest ever in the SES fleet – is part of a major growth in anticipated demand. For example, the geostationary satellite industry is currently supplying just 3 Tb/s of capacity. This will grow to 172 Tb/s by 2030, a 56-times growth in satellite connectivity supply between 2020 and 2030.

The key target market for SES-17 is North America’s aviation demand, along with flights across the Atlantic and a likely 425 Gb/s in demand over the next few years. The flexibility is needed because of the need to shift bandwidth across the system.

“The next 3-5 years will see many airlines move to a ‘free’ [in-flight connectivity] model,” said SES CEO Steve Collar. “A global network, and using mPOWER, is vital because aircraft do not stay on one route, so flexibility between space and ground and satellite-to-satellite is all seamless”.

Collar added that the Cruise market was another key market, and where it could be very wasteful to focus a satellite’s beam on one area of the ocean to serve a vessel but that the ship could also sail out of the beam’s focus. It was for these reason that flexibility was needed.

Craig Olsen, VP/Connectivity at Thales InFlyt, told attendees that 50 per cent of global satellite data capacity demand will be from the Americas (including North and South America and the Atlantic Ocean region). “Once upon a time a passenger travelling by air took a book. Then music, via a Sony Walkman, came along. Nowadays, a family on an aircraft might have two or more devices open onto different pages, and airlines need to tailor their new bandwidth via 200 spot beams to dynamically serve those passengers.”

The data presented was impressive, with North American airline demand growing from just 6.4 Gb/s last year, and growing to a massive 285.5 Gb/s by 2030. Thales InFlyt (FlytLIVE) is already contracted to supply Spirit Airlines and will be using SES-17 to help serve the airline’s passengers.

SES Sat-17 is a huge but super-flexible geostationary satellite. Importantly, it will work with the upcoming fleet of SES’s O3b family of mPOWER satellites which will work in mid-Earth orbit, and together give unprecedented inter-satellite links. SES-17 has the world’s most powerful solar arrays ever manufactured, and stretching some 46 metres across.

The past two years of Covid-19 have not helped the airline industry, but airlines see in-flight connectivity and entertainment as an important revenue earner as the sector recovers. Satellites can deliver gate-to-gate bandwidth for use by passengers, as well as flight-deck crew and the aircraft itself. Research shows that passengers want communication while in the air, whether for simple email or live TV. Airlines are contemplating various permutations of connectivity, perhaps a free-service for first class or business class passengers, or perhaps supported by advertising for economy clients. All the studies indicate that In Flight connectivity will expand dramatically over the next few years.

An SES Investor Presentation earlier this year showed that the contracted backlog for SES-17 and the mPower fleet stood at $740 million. Given that neither SES-17 or the mPOWER fleet has – as yet launched – this is a considerable sum and SES says the possibility of “accelerated growth from 2022” will take place in the period 2022-2025 as a result of SES-17 and the mPOWER fleet.

Collar told the meeting that SES would shortly announce its replacement strategy for its 19.2 degree primary location.

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