A Russian Proton rocket carrying ViaSat 1, the biggest broadband communications satellite – by far – to serve the U.S. and Canada, was successfully launched today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, reports Space Flight Now.
UPDATE: After a 9 hour, 12-minute mission, the Breeze M successfully released the ViaSat-1 satellite into geostationary transfer orbit.
If all goes well, it will be the first high throughput satellite available in the United States. ViaSat-1 will have more capacity than the entire North American satellite fleet combined, including all the two-way Ka, C and Ku band satellites. Spotbeams reuse the frequency (pdf).
Unlike previous satellites, ViaSat’s Ka-band (20/30 GHz) provides dozens of spot beams, reusing the same transponder frequencies, thereby expanding capacity (and economic viability). Its 72 beams will cover 75 percent of the Continental United States, as well as the most populated areas of Alaska, Hawaii and Canada. ViaSat-1 will also provide internet for JetBlue’s planned in-flight broadband services.
Unlike Lightsquared or Inmarsat, which were designed for mobile phones at 1.6 GHz, ViaSat-1 is designed to deliver fixed broadband at 20/30 GHz to homes and businesses in rural areas. Consumers may get internet speeds up to 10 Mbps using small (1 meter) dishes.
The first generation Ku band (12/14 GHz) internet satellites, blanketed much of the United States with a single beam or with several time-zone scale footprints. That slows internet access because thousands of users must share a single satellite transponder.
Wild Blue-1, the first generation of Ka band satellites, now owned and operated by ViaSat, used many more spot beams, but their traditional “bent pipe” architecture still restricted capacity.
ViaSat-1, with advanced antenna technologies and higher capacity transponders, can provide much more 2-way capacity. Small SurfBeam 2 dishes will connect computers to ViaSat-1 at speeds up to 10 Mbps, almost ten times the current speed of WildBlue.
International Launch Services reports that the third and four burns took place as planned. It’s currently in the midst of a five-hour coast period prior to the fifth and final firing by the Breeze M tonight.
The launch was postponed for several months because of damage to the satellite during testing. ViaSat 1 will rely upon its onboard engine in the subsequent days to reach a circular geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the planet at 115 degrees West longitude.
Transponder reuse is expected to lower the effective cost of internet access and make speed more competitive with DSL and cable modems. Latency, however, remains a big issue with any geosynchronous satellite.
Interestingly, satellite terminal makers have now taken control of the satellite broadband business. Hughes Communications was purchased in June for $2.2 billion by satellite television set-top box builder EchoStar. Simularly, ViaSat, the satellite terminal maker for WildBlue, bought the company for $568 million in 2009 when it became apparent that nobody was buying more terminals because the service was maxed out.
Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat’s WildBlue competes with Hughes’ HughesNet service in providing satellite broadband to consumers in the United States. Hughes will get their own high capacity satellite next year, called Jupiter.
Both ViaSat and Hughes are using Space Systems/Loral to manufacture their new satellites.
Hughes reported that as of March 31, its HughesNet consumer broadband service had 613,000 subscribers, a 6 percent increase from Dec. 31. Revenue per subscriber held steady at $75 per month.
Northern Sky Research predicts broadband access revenues to skyrocket to over $5 billion in 2020, a net gain of over $3.8 billion.
Use of High Throughput Satellites, like KASat, ViaSat-1 and Jupiter, will increase total capacity strongly within a few years, but the Ku band terminals will still dominate.
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