Recent Tests and Case Studies Show How Intelsat EpicNG Is Redefining the Capabilities of Airborne Applications

March 1, 2018

Our first Intelsat EpicNG satellite has been in space a little over two years now, and we have launched four more since then. With five of these high-throughput satellites (HTS) in orbit and being used by our customers, we have gained quite a bit of both test data and real-world experience demonstrating the capabilities and versatility of the EpicNG technology.

We recently published a white paper on the end-user advantages of open architecture designs versus closed for mobility applications using small antennas. The paper describes three Use Cases, two for the U.S. DoD, that demonstrate how Intelsat EpicNG supports high speed connectivity for applications such as high-definition full-motion video into antennas as small as 30” using half the bandwidth needed on widebeam satellites. The paper goes into greater detail on the throughput and security improvements of the Intelsat EpicNG spacecraft.

In late January we conducted further in-flight tests using a Gulfstream III jet aircraft operated by Calspan Aerospace, a company specializing in in-flight testing of airborne components and systems for manned and unmanned aircraft. The aircraft flew along the eastern seaboard of the United States connected both to Intelsat IS-29e, our first EpicNG satellite, and to Galaxy 18, one of our existing wide-beam satellites. Both satellites are part of the IntelsatOne Flex communications fabric that provides managed services for aeronautical and other mobility applications (more on that in a bit).

The antenna used on the Gulfstream was a Rantec 45cm parabolic antenna paired with an iDirect Velocity 9800 modem. Rantec is the first of a number of antennas we expect to approve for operation in the IntelsatOne Flex network. Flying from Buffalo, NY, to Miami, FL, our technicians established connectivity for web browsing, VoIP telephone calls, YouTube video downloading, and access to corporate IT resources via IPN while switching between the spot beams of IS-29e and the wide beams of Galaxy 18.

The testing proved that the iDirect Velocity 9800 aero paired with an airborne antenna provides seamless access to voice and data applications via IntelsatOne Flex with no degradation in service quality from that observed on terrestrial platforms.

Creating the IntelsatOne Flex service offering is part of an initiative to help our customers take the leap from ordering MHz and creating a stand-alone network for each requirement, to instead helping customers define the end service that they require for specific missions and providing that end-user service. The customer gets the defined service that meets their requirements. Subscription plans are available in gigabytes, or by time for guaranteed data rates. U.S. and other government users realize that by providing us with their ultimate service goal, the more leeway we as providers will have in coming up with creative solutions that could ultimately cost less than merely buying a fixed amount of satellite capacity.

One area where governments are looking for better solutions involves the increasing number of military and civilian missions using helicopters. The unique ability of rotary platforms to take off and land vertically makes them highly versatile. But the difficulties of maintaining a satellite connection through the spinning blades has long been a technical challenge and has limited communications to line-of-sight links with antennas placed below the blades. The increasing demand for high-throughput data links for voice and video have spurred companies to come up with technical solutions that support satellite links. We will soon be doing a test with another company using our Intelsat EpicNG platform that will demonstrate how satellite connections are viable.

On the budget front, the recent budget deal approved by Congress should relieve some of the pressure the Pentagon feels to cut back funding of key programs. Congress raised budget caps for defense and domestic spending by almost $300 billion over the next two years. The White House budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal years calls for $686 billion for the Department of Defense in base funding and $69 billion for Oversees Contingency Operations (OCO). This includes $9.3 billion for space programs and prioritizes defense of space systems against growing threats from Russia and China. The request includes $45.9 million for the COMSATCOM Pathfinder 5 project “to demonstrate the use of commercial high through put/capacity satellites (HTS/HCS).”

But even with budgetary pressures being eased, military planners will still want to work with Intelsat General and other commercial providers to find the very best solutions for the warfighter at the least possible cost. As our recent tests show, the Intelsat EpicNG constellation can play a key role in providing those solutions.

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