Advanced Television

Viasat faces key business challenge

August 29, 2023

It is not yet confirmed but the potential loss of a new satellite for Viasat of California could pose a major problem for the company. But some experts suggest the loss might prove to be a blessing in disguise.

The satellite in question is Inmarsat I6-F2 craft, but the probable loss comes hard on the heels of another problem with an even younger satellite (ViaSat 3-Americas). Viasat now owns Inmarsat.

The Inmarsat I6-F2, which was launched back in February and has suffered a power subsystem anomaly during the craft’s orbit raising phase which normally take s about 5-6 months after launch.

The ViaSat-3 problem – although again Viasat has not declared the craft a total loss – is caused by a problem with an antenna on the satellite. The rest of the satellite, says founder Mark Dankberg, is working correctly (or even better than expected). Dankberg said: “The fact that we can communicate through it is hopeful,” but added that more data is needed to then decide whether Viasat will ultimately get little to no capacity from the satellite, or something closer to the 1 terabit per second (Tbps) it had been expecting.

Normally, the loss – or even restricted operational potential – would be considered a major catastrophe for any operator. But the fact is that in the past 4-5 years since these satellites were ordered times and business expectations have dramatically changed.

And if insurance claims are to be made, and both satellites are comprehensively insured, then Viasat could likely receive around $1 billion in compensation for both satellites. And the company might well be happy to use that $1 billion on accelerating its plans for an L-band low Earth orbiting (LEO) constellation.

That constellation (called “Orchestra”) and described as a communications network of the future “that will enable ground-breaking new services, in new places, for global mobility customers,” by Inmarsat and which includes 175 satellites. Back in February, an Inmarsat executive explained that perhaps Inmarsat did not need to build its own constellation.

Inmarsat stressed that NOT building its own constellation was one option available to it. Choosing that option would mean Inmarsat could partner with another operator which owned or was building its own LEO constellation.

But add into the mix an insurance pay-out of around $1 billion and Viasat could consider another option. It could also look to buy an operator, and one expert has suggested that Rivada Space Networks which is building a very attractive constellation of 600 satellites, could fit that bill. The thought is that the Rivada satellites – now being built – could be adapted to add L-band connectivity to suit Viasat as well as its existing laser-linked services.

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