Spaceway 3, a 13,400-pound switchboard-in-the-sky was successfully hauled into space Tuesday aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
Spaceway 3 is a 2-way internet satellite with spot beams for North America. In the next few days, it will propel itself into a circular 22,300-mile-high orbit above the equator at 95 degrees West.
SPACEWAY 3 is one of the largest telecommunications satellites ever built. Its innovative design includes onboard dynamic multi-beam switching, which will deliver bandwidth-on-demand and direct site-to-site mesh networking.
The craft will be operated by Maryland-based Hughes Network Systems for more than 12 years, beaming Internet and multimedia services to businesses, government users and private consumers across North America. The spacecraft was built by Boeing Satellite Systems and is based on the Boeing 702 design.
“It’s a defining moment for our company because for the first time, we will own a satellite on our own,” said Pradman Kaul, chairman and chief executive officer of Hughes Network Systems. “We now can offer an end-to-end service where every piece of that service is provided by Hughes. I don’t think there is any other company in the world today that can make that statement.”
Spaceway 1 (below) & Spaceway 2 were originally designed for 2-way internet, but were modified before launch, under orders from DirectTV’s new owner Rupurt Murdock, to become HDTV broadcast satellites. Those satellites are now operational, supplying hundreds of HD channels and rebroadcasting local channels via satellite (eliminating the need for a broadcast tv antenna). DirecTV’s 2-way satellite internet business (and Spaceway 3) was then spun off from DirecTV to Hughes Network Systems.
Spaceway 3 was originally tagged to fly into orbit from Boeing’s Sea Launch, but their ocean-based rocket booster exploded on its floating launch platform in a catastrophic failure on Jan. 31. The accident caused Hughes to move Spaceway 3 to Arianespace, which has a strategic alliance with Sea Launch for such circumstances.
The high-tech satellite includes advanced antenna technologies with Ka-band spot beams for 2-way broadband services. A digital signal processor aboard Spaceway 3 will be able to switch and route broadband traffic, removing the need for a ground station, according to Hughes. The ground terminals are smaller, cheaper and more sophisticated that VSats businesses like WalMart used previously and can automatically adjust to compensate for heavy rainfall or interference.
Currently HughesNet, with some 325,000 subscribers, offers 2-way satellite internet to consumers using the Ku band (11/14 GHz). Now the Ka band spotbeam with Spaceway 3 (at 20/30 GHz) should expand the business.
Commercial service for Spaceway 3 should begin by next January. Broadband Reports has a Spaceway Forum.
But Spaceway’s “switchboard in the sky” approach is more expensive than simpler “bent pipe” architecture of spot beam competitor WildBlue (left).
Both DirecTV and Echostar (Dish Network) plan to roll out internet services (via WildBlue) over the coming months. WildBlue has signed agreements with both DirecTV and EchoStar. The five-year agreement also allows WildBlue to provide television services. DirecTV and EchoStar have a total of 30 million U.S. tv subs.
Hughes is primarily targeting business communications with Spaceway 3. Because the Hughes architecture can form “ad hoc” networks, with direct connections between users, it’s expected to be particularly useful for applications like video conferencing or file transfer.
Satellite internet has been a tough slog for operators. Spot beams, it is hoped, will change all that. Operators have been forced to “oversubscibe” the capacity of their $1M a year transponders in order to make satellite internet services economical to consumers. But that has resulted in slow service. Spot beams — by reusing transponder capacity in different areas of the country — effectively multiplies the capacity of a transponder. Consumers get faster speeds and lower costs.
Spot beam satellites providing 2-way internet access in North America include:
The Ariane 5 rocket also launched BSAT-3a, a direct-to-home DBS system for Japan. BSAT-3a will be primarily used by NHK, Japan’s largest broadcasting company and a nearly 50 percent shareholder in BSAT Corp. The satellite will broadcast programs to more than 20 million subscribers.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the satellite carries 12 Ku-band transponders, eight of which can operate at one time. The craft joins a fleet of four other broadcasting satellites owned by BSAT Corp. The satellites provide a combination of analog and digital services.
Meanwhile, the FCC has determined that Mobile Satellite Ventures has met the beginning physical milestone associated with the construction of its next-generation MSV-1 satellite. MSV holds the first FCC license to provide hybrid satellite-terrestrial services.
MSV plans to launch two satellites for coverage of the United States and Canada, which are expected to be among the largest and most powerful commercial satellites ever built. When completed, the MSV satellite network is expected to support public safety, homeland security, transportation and entertainment, by providing a platform for voice and high-speed data services. MSV is majority owned and controlled by SkyTerra Communications.
Satellite broadband service revenues are expected to rise this year until 2011, says research firm Northern Sky Research. NSR estimates that almost 900, 36-MHz transponders will be needed to provision the global base of broadband VSAT sites and satellite Internet access subscribers by 2011 — a 40% increase from 2006. Government-sponsored broadband VSAT projects, notably in developing countries, form a large part of NSR’s forecast.
Hughes Chief Executive Pradman Kaul estimates there may be as many as 15 million homes and small businesses too remote for cable modem or DSL. But they’ll have competition from terrestrial broadband wireless via cellular and WiMAX.
In June, WiMAX service provider Clearwire announced a distribution agreements with satellite TV operators DirecTV and EchoStar. The deal enables both satellite companies to offer Clearwire’s high-speed WiMAX Internet service. Clearwire, in turn, can offer pay TV services of either operator.
DBS operators and WiMAX have complementary businesses, says Northern Sky. Satellites remain a highly efficient platform for distributing pay TV to large audiences across wide geographies, and WiMAX can assist satellite players in addressing satellites’ two-way broadband economic disadvantages, particularly in areas that have DSL and cable. Spaceway 3 and WildBlue can deliver broadband in isolated areas and provide broadband backhaul nearly anywhere.
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