Protected Communications on Commercial Satellites

The U.S. Government makes extensive use of satellite communications (SATCOM).  Military and commercial SATCOM infrastructure can provide data, video, and voice connectivity between any two locations on the earth or in the air.  And it can do so much more quickly than other wired and wireless alternatives.  Government SATCOM, however, has an impending security challenge.

In the future, it is expected that a larger percentage of communication links over both military and commercial satellites will require protection from jamming and other forms of interference.  The activities of those who want to disrupt U.S. satellite communications are anticipated to grow in volume, capability, and sophistication.  Intelsat General is responding to these threats by taking advantage of new technologies and by quantifying the protection these technologies will provide on commercial satellites, both traditional and EpicNG-class.

The U.S. military is already investigating possible mitigation techniques.  One such effort is the Air Force’s “Protected MILSATCOM Design for Affordability Risk Reduction Demonstration Study.”  This program has funded efforts by more than a dozen different entities to design, develop, build, and test affordable solutions for the protected comms challenge.  The results are targeted for use on military satellites but many are applicable to commercial SATCOM as well.

Intelsat General has engaged with companies developing ground-based, protected comms solutions.  Many have advanced designs and prototypes with demonstrated protection capabilities.  As these development programs mature, Intelsat General plans to demonstrate and validate their performance on commercial satellites.

This validation will occur both over the air and in controlled environments using satellite simulators built with flight-ready hardware.  Intelsat plans to test both traditional commercial satellites, such as 72 MHz-wide Ku-band and C-band transponders, as well as our next generation EpicNG satellites.

Intelsat’s EpicNG satellites will bring protection capabilities not often seen in commercial spacecraft.  Intelsat’s EpicNG-class satellites are high-throughput, high-frequency re-use, multi-spot satellites.  The design has inherent protection features.

In order for an adversary to jam a satellite, the jamming device must be located within the same beam as the satellite signal.  If outside the beam, the pattern roll-off will automatically reduce and filter out the jammer’s effect.  The spot beams utilized on EpicNG are significantly smaller (~350 mile radius) than spot beams on traditional commercial satellites, resulting in a much smaller area from which one can attempt to jam.

For protected communications, wider bandwidth transponders enable more options to mitigate the effects of a jammer. The wider the satellite transponder, the greater the allowable spreading and the greater the protection provided. Similarly, in a wider transponder, there is more room for hopping, if that protection technique is used.  A nominal Intelsat EpicNG beam has 125 MHz bandwidth, compared to 32 MHz on Inmarsat I-5 Global Service Beams and 72 to 112 MHz on traditional Intelsat satellites.  This significant bandwidth increase will allow for greater jamming mitigation capabilities.

These are some of the ways Intelsat General is addressing the growing need for protected communication on commercial SATCOM.  This type of proactive innovation will help keep the U.S. government’s SATCOM assets protected from threats in space. For more information on the benefits of next generation high throughput satellites, click here for a video tutorial.

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