From the Top
HTS + RPAs = Tastier Produce and Higher Crop Yields as Flat-Panel Antennas Open a Range of New Unmanned Aircraft Applications
I recently came upon an interesting fact that illustrates just how far technology has advanced in my lifetime: the processing speed of the guidance system on the Apollo mission that carried man to the moon in 1969 is roughly equivalent to that of two Nintendo game consoles.
That’s not a leap that happened all at once, for as we well know, the speed of microprocessors has been increasing steadily since the dawn of the digital age. The power and data throughput of satellites has increased incrementally as well, but now we are seeing a true leap in technology with high-throughput spacecraft like the new Intelsat EpicNG platform. The ability to provide beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) capability on smaller and smaller unmanned platforms, like Class III remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs), is just one example of how that capability translates to applications and emerging requirements.
That leap in performance and efficiency – in many cases triple that of conventional widebeam satellites – when combined with the new flat-panel antenna technologies is going to enable a new solution for many military and civilian applications. And, new applications seem to be emerging daily.
In agriculture, for example, sensors on RPAs can measure plant height and health, the lack of nutrients, the presence of disease, and crop moisture content. Unmanned aircraft can also help monitor the status, location and movement of animals.
Intelsat has so far tested more than 10 small, tactical terminals, ranging in size from 45 centimeters to 1.3 meters, using the first Intelsat EpicNG satellite, IS-29e. In the tests, we achieved efficiencies of up to 2.8 bps/Hz — an improvement of two- to three-times over what we have seen on typical wide-beam satellites. Next-generation ground equipment being rolled out in 2017 is expected to achieve efficiencies up to 3.5 bps/Hz on EpicNG-class satellites.
We also performed a series of tests using Gilat’s BlackRay 71 airborne terminal, with its mechanically steered 6” by 6” flat panel array antenna. In these tests, we achieved an unprecedented 3.9 Mbps using only 15.2MHz of bandwidth. This more than twofold increase in throughput, compared to a widebeam satellite, enabled for the first time full motion video using an antenna of this size.
These Class III RPAs are much smaller – and cheaper – than the Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft that have become the mainstay of U.S. military activities in the past decade. But because of the weight of conventional satellite antenna systems, these Class III aircraft could not be flown beyond the line of sight of the operator, until now. With smaller antennas and higher-powered satellites, these RPAs can now utilize satellites to communicate beyond line of sight, enabling them to travel much greater distances while still communicating with their operator.
No longer will these small RPAs be limited to a small geographic area or dependence on a complex network of ground stations that can pass off the vehicle, or follow it from the ground. With greater geographic flexibility, applications for these aircraft can expand to search and rescue, wildfire monitoring, border patrol, wildlife migration studies, pipeline inspection and agricultural assessment among others.
In the next step of antenna technology, the race is on to deliver not just a flat panel, but one which no longer needs to be mechanically pointed. They are small, flat, and integrated flush into the roof of a vehicle or fuselage of an aircraft. Intelsat has made significant development investments in two new antenna companies, Kymeta focusing on maritime and aero mobility operations and Phasor focused on civil and government small jets , each of which is working furiously to become early movers in this market.
At Intelsat, we are still going to build traditional widebeam satellites and we have also built some wide-beam coverage into certain Intelsat EpicNG satellites, like IS-33e, which is primarily based on a spot-beam architecture. There is no single EpicNG design and this is an intentional part of our open architecture planning.
While widebeam satellites are still an excellent option for many applications, like broadcast video, high-throughput designs are proliferating as the best way to make the most of limited spectrum, and to meet the ever-increasing demand for higher throughout and performance using smaller user terminals.
Nowhere is this demand more apparent than in the tactical military user communities, where small flat terminals, formerly the exclusive province of low-data-rate L band, are now delivering true broadband speeds. We expect broader applications to open up once civilian organizations see the power of HTS paired with electronically steered flat-panel antennas.
Q&A | Intelsat General’s Skot Butler on EpicNG and selling bandwidth to DoD
A satellite’s projected capabilities and demonstrated capabilities aren’t always the same. Have there been any surprises in what the EpicNG satellite can deliver?
Generally, Intelsat 29e has over-performed based on projections. We are very pleased. Nothing about the technology is disappointing or problematic.
What has your testing to date entailed?
Intelsat General has tested more than 10 small, tactical terminals, ranging in size from 45 centimeters to 1.3 meters on IS-29e, and achieved efficiencies up to 2.8 bps/Hz. This is an improvement of two- to three-times over what we have seen on typical wide-beam satellites. Next-generation ground modems being rolled out in 2017 are expected to achieve efficiencies up to 3.5 bps/Hz on EpicNG-class satellites.
Intelsat General Teams with By Light to Support Hurricane Relief in Haiti
A few days before Hurricane Matthew roared into the Caribbean in early October, officials at By Light Professional IT Services in Arlington, VA, heard from the Defense Logistics Agency that the U.S. military might need commercial satellite capacity for relief efforts. By Light is a service-disabled veteran-owned business with a contract to provide the DoD with satellite communications and other SATCOM services when and where they are needed.
The hurricane passed directly over the southwestern peninsula of Haiti on October 4, killing more than 1,000 people, destroying thousands of homes, and leaving an estimated 1.4 million victims in urgent need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.
Within three days, U.S. military personnel began arriving with supplies and equipment for the relief efforts to move food, water, medical supplies and temporary shelters to Red Cross and other aid workers in the affected areas. Nine military helicopters were on the scene to assist in moving the supplies. The Joint Task Force established a command center in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and set up a ground terminal to connect to Intelsat’s Galaxy 18 satellite. The satellite connection used Ku-band capacity to support first-responder communications and the coordination of relief efforts.
The U.S. Agency for International Development was the lead relief agency and had teams on the ground to identify needs and then request military assistance to deliver supplies. Over the next two weeks, some 400 U.S. service members moved more than 250 metric tons of critical supplies, according to DoD officials.
“The day after the hurricane passed through, we were able to surge the U.S. military,” said Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command. “[We] were able to be on the ground, set up a joint task force to begin to provide that very critical unique enabler the U.S. military brings — the ability to move fast and move heavy loads of humanitarian aid to the hardest-hit areas at same time the international network was able to open up the roads from Port-au-Prince to the southwest.”
Jeff Adelman, Program Manager at By Light who coordinated the Galaxy 18 capacity with Intelsat General, said the satellite connection will provide support for the relief effort at least through the end of the year. Most U.S. military personnel sent to Haiti have returned to the United States, but a small communications team remains in place operating the ground terminal connected to the Intelsat satellite network.
“In a disaster such as this, satellites are the key link between relief teams on the scene and commanders coordinating the relief effort,” Adelman said. “We are able to work smoothly with Intelsat General when we get word that capacity will be needed, and then respond to the requirement by getting additional bandwidth online and providing phone support for downrange operators.”
A Big Role for Small Satellite Terminals
The U.S. Navy’s investment in its own fleet of high-altitude, long-range unmanned aerial systems called Tritons marks a detour from the military’s longtime use of satellite technology to connect its arsenal of big platforms such as Global Hawks and Predators.
The communications payloads for the family of drones are built to leverage primarily X-band military frequencies, a revolutionary undertaking. The X band has been around since the beginning of satellite communications (SATCOM), but it has gone hand in hand with mammoth antennas and point-to-point services—until now. The Navy’s pursuit of the new pilotless aircraft is one example of sweeping changes transforming the satellite industry that could vastly improve Defense Department intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
Intelsat General to provide satellite services to RiteNet for US Army network
Intelsat General has announced a new contract to provide satellite connectivity to RiteNet Corp. to support testing by the U.S. Army at Ft. Bliss in El, Paso, TX, and at the nearby White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The Army conducts a range of testing using the Warfighter Information Network (WIN-T) at these two facilities, including two Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) events each year to evaluate new technologies.
Using Ku-band capacity on an Intelsat satellite, RiteNet will provide both ongoing and surge capacity for the network. RiteNet, based in Rockville, MD, provides information technology and telecommunications services to a number of government and commercial customers.
Intelsat and Intelsat General support hurricane Matthew recovery efforts
Intelsat and Intelsat General are both playing significant roles to support hurricane relief work in Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. The hurricane passed directly over the southwestern peninsula of the Caribbean nation on October 4, killing more than 1,000 people, destroying thousands of homes, and leaving an estimated 1.4 million Haitians in urgent need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.
Intelsat is donating SATCOM capacity to the American Red Cross to support relief operations. Intelsat is providing a VSAT connection for the Red Cross center for 90 days using Ku-band capacity from Intelsat 29e, the first satellite in the Intelsat EpicNG platform.
Bill Callahan, Director of Global Network Solutions
Bill Callahan is a Director of Global Network Solutions for Intelsat General, a position he has held since joining the company in early 2014. Callahan is responsible for several key business accounts with over $30 million in annual revenue and has been a leader in introducing Intelsat’s new EpicNG constellation of high-throughput satellites to the Department of Defense.
Prior to joining Intelsat General, Callahan held account manager positions at both Telecommunications Systems Inc. and Harris Corp. He entered the private sector in September 2010 following a 23-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps that included multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Callahan joined the Marines in May 1987 following graduation from the Virginia Military Institute. Early in his military career, he became involved in communications and learned quickly to work within very short time constraints in a variety of combat organizations. As a communications officer, he planned and managed multiple communications systems, including single-channel radio, multichannel radio, terrestrial microwave, satellite links and secured and non-secure data networks for various organizations in many diverse locations. He had combat tours overseas with artillery and infantry units during Operation Desert Shield/Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
In August 2003, he was assigned as Officer in Charge of the U.S. Central Command’s Theater Communications Control Center in Bahrain, responsible for management and control of the command’s communications infrastructure, which included all networks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly the entire network required satellites, and he managed a team of 38 civilian and military personnel that provided network monitoring, spectrum management, network control, planning and policy enforcement.
He transferred to Stuttgart, Germany, in 2005, to become Assistant Chief of Staff for Communications and Information Systems and Chief Information Officer for Marine Corps Forces Europe. He returned to the United States in 2008, assigned as Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Communications and Information Systems for the Second Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, NC. He led the unit responsible for training, equipping and planning communications architectures for Marine units preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Callahan’s last assigned was as Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff and Operations Officer for Communications and Information Systems of the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade, first at Camp Lejeune at later in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He retired after this assignment with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
In addition to his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from VMI, Callahan earned master’s degrees in electrical engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School and in national security studies from the Army War College.
Following his retirement from the military, Callahan and his wife Katie settled in Annapolis, MD, where they enjoy sailing, boating and fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. He also describes himself as an “aspiring golfer.”
Where to Find Us
In the coming months, Intelsat General Corp. will be exhibiting and participating in the following conference and events:
Colorado Space Roundup, December 7, 2016, Denver, CO
SIA DoD Workshop 2016, Dec. 14-16, 2016, Arlington, VA
7900 Tysons One Place, 12th Floor
McLean, VA 22102-5972