ViaSat-3 Launch Allows Operator to Grow in IFC and Broadband, Says Viasat CEO Dankberg

By Rachel Jewett | May 5, 2023
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SpaceX launches the ViaSat-3 satellite on Sunday, April 30. (Photo: SpaceX)

Viasat’s long-awaited first ViaSat-3 satellite is on its way to orbit after a Sunday night SpaceX Falcon Heavy mission, kicking off a new era of business for Viasat as it begins to launch a trio of high-capacity satellites.

The mission also launched the first Astranis microGEO satellite, which will support Alaskan satellite service provider Pacific Dataport with broadband capacity to cover the state.

Weather at Cape Canaveral held the launch back for a few days after it was set to fly on Wednesday, April 26. Thursday night, the Cape was hit with hail, tornadoes and lightning, and the 39A launch tower was even struck with lightning. SpaceX said it performed extra checkouts on the launch vehicle, payloads, and ground support equipment after the lightning strike.

The satellite separated from the launch vehicle about 4 hours and 32 minutes after 8:26 p.m. liftoff. Viasat confirmed post-launch that it has acquired signals from the satellite, which is now on its way to its final orbital location at 88.9 degrees West.

This is the first of three satellites in the ViaSat-3 constellation, and it will cover the Americas. The next satellite in the ViaSat-3 constellation, which will serve EMEA, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, is planned for launch by ULA and is currently in environmental testing with Boeing. Viasat said the three-satellite constellation is expected to provide more capacity than any other telecommunication network currently in orbit.

The operator has been working on the underlying technology for nearly 10 years, CEO Mark Dankberg told Via Satellite. He said the satellite’s beam-forming technology, which allows the operator to change the location of beams based on customer demand, is one of the key innovations that will benefit mobility customers in aviation and maritime.

“If I can move bandwidth, from Dallas, to Chicago, to Atlanta, to New York, over to Los Angeles and San Francisco at the right times, I can get very substantial efficiency gains—which we can do for our customers,” Dankberg said. “Think of it as a dynamic map of where I put my bandwidth in response to the demand of what my customer base is.”

The Viasat-3 satellite will bring the operator much-needed capacity to grow its U.S. residential broadband customers base. As Viasat has increased its presence in the in-flight connectivity market, it had to cut back the number of consumer broadband customers it could support, Dankberg said.

“ViaSat-3 will solve that problem. We’ll have plenty of bandwidth for both markets. We have a very strong order book for commercial in-flight, and we’ll be able to grow substantially in residential. We’ll be able to offer plans with higher speeds than we offer now and with a lot more bandwidth for higher usage,” he said.

Dankberg also cited opportunities in maritime, which is a new area for Viasat as it does not have much ocean coverage with its current fleet, and land mobile like trains and long-distance buses.

Viasat built the payload and Boeing built the satellite bus. The satellite is based on the 702 vehicle design that is used for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) constellation. But the 702MP+ features all-electric propulsion for the first time aboard a 702MP, which Boeing said offers more sustained thrust and efficiency. Boeing also improved the platform’s structure to support Viasat’s large payload. The platform also accommodates the largest commercial satellite solar arrays Boeing-subsidiary Spectrolab has ever produced.

The satellite finally launched on April 30 after numerous delays with technical, manufacturing and pandemic challenges—the satellite was originally slated to launch in 2020.

Repeated delays in finalizing the first satellite have pushed back Viasat’s growth projections, but the operator said in its recent full year financial results that it expects to achieve the stand-alone fiscal year 2025 target of doubling revenue and more than doubling adjusted EBITDA relative to fiscal year 2020 (pro forma for the Link-16 TDL sale).

This article was originally published by Via Satellite, a sister publication to Avionics International. Click here to read the original version >>

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