Viasat Inc. a global communications company, announced it was selected on April 20th by NASA to support its Communications Services Project (CSP), which seeks to accelerate the development of near-Earth communications by partnering with commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) providers. Aligned to the CSP objectives, Viasat is developing a space relay capability that will leverage its upcoming ViaSat-3 global satellite constellation, with a newly developed terminal that will enable on-demand and cost-effective communications services for LEO spacecraft anywhere and at any time in their global orbit.
Many satellites operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) routinely collect data, such as Earth and weather observations, radar measurements, space situational awareness, and other scientific data, that must be sent back to Earth in real-time. In choosing how to transport this data back to Earth for analysis and distribution, satellite operators often must consider a tradeoff between data latency, the time between data collection to when it is received back on Earth, and cost.
Viasat’s existing RTE service has already reduced the cost to satellite operators by not requiring them to build and operate a costly, global network of ground station antennas to receive data from the LEO satellite; however, operators must wait until their satellites fly over a ground station to downlink their data. This introduces latency that can last from minutes to hours. Viasat’s space relay service will give LEO operators the ability to send data—in real-time, from any point in LEO orbit—leveraging the upcoming ViaSat-3 geostationary orbit (GEO) network, which will include three Terabit-class high-throughput satellites.
Viasat’s integrated space relay network will offer the best of both worlds by providing adaptable transport selection between the RTE ground network and ViaSat-3. This is expected to greatly reduce data latency by providing an affordable option for time-critical, latency-sensitive data transfer, while simultaneously offering multiple daily opportunities to downlink large amounts of data over a global ground network at very low cost. The Viasat RTE network currently operates on five continents, with sites in North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Africa.
“Under NASA’s CSP program, Viasat will accelerate the deployment of its space relay services to support commercial and government NGSO operators, whether their space vehicles’ mission is performing atmospheric analysis or rapidly moving data to support warfighters at the tactical edge,” said Craig Miller, president of Viasat Government Systems. “The Viasat space relay service will deliver performance and scale beyond legacy data relay capabilities by transforming the way data is moved to and from space vehicles, offering persistent coverage to large numbers of LEO users simultaneously, with real-time access virtually anywhere, including the polar regions. The service will provide operators with the unique flexibility to switch between space relay and RTE direct-to-Earth depending on what the mission requires.”
Viasat is currently developing a space-qualified Ka-band terminal to give LEO operators access to the ViaSat-3 network for data transfer. Additional information on this terminal is available to operators seeking to evaluate integration on their space vehicles.