LEO, MEO, GEO: Operators Chart the Multi-Orbit Path Forward

By Marisa Torrieri | September 27, 2023
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Deep-water drilling is often a $10 million a day, mission-critical operation. If a signal drops, and an oil rig engineer can’t track their machinery for more than a few seconds, they have to shut down operations or risk the safety of their crew. Safety is a priority—but that’s a lot of money down the drain.

With the importance of connectivity at the forefront, more and more oil, gas, and other industry players are relying on satellites to beam high-speed internet services to the job sites. Yet while satellite has been traditionally viewed as a backup to fiber, its role is starting to shift into a first line of defense.

As such, satellite service providers like Houston-based Speedcast, one of the world’s largest global connectivity providers specializing in managed communications for business and enterprise networks, are unveiling service offerings that blend signals from multiple orbits across Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO), and Geostationary Orbit (GEO), as well as terrestrial networks. The company says this is the best way to ensure connectivity is truly seamless when dollars are at stake.

“If something goes down, an energy operator has to shut down the drilling operation because they’re running things remotely, all the way back in Houston or Aberdeen and the operation might be 300 kilometers off the coast of Angola,” says Speedcast CEO Joe Spytek. “That’s why they have always been willing to pay a premium for high-quality, high-availability services.”

Spytek says the concept of 100 percent uptime is now a reality. “We weave together the largest global footprint of GEO capacity, while also integrating mPOWER links or a Starlink terminal, blending all the connectivity paths together so if one were to go down, the customer still maintains their network communications,” he says.

When Spytek took the helm of Speedcast in 2021 as the company emerged from bankruptcy, he set out to transform how Speedcast did business, positioning the company for a multi-orbit future of software-defined networks.

One of Speedcast’s more recent moves was a partnership with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. Speedcast was the first announced integrator for Starlink. As the demand for multi-orbit, or “multipath” satellite connectivity—between GEO, MEO, and LEO—Spytek says his inbox is loaded with inbound queries from organizations with land, maritime, energy and government operations.

“With access to LEO constellations now, we’ve been able to access whole new customer segments,” says Spytek. “A Starlink terminal is more like a terrestrial LTE service than a satellite service in some respects. When you pair Starlink with a customer’s existing terrestrial service, you can actually offer a very highly reliable network. We’ve already added hundreds of new customers on the back of some of these LEO offerings. That’s really one area where we’re seeing very strong growth.”

There’s plenty of room for other winners, it seems, as the industry migrates toward an expanded vision of satellite connectivity, driven by the ability for satellites in different orbits to communicate with each other. As operators merge and adopt more sophisticated ground terminals that can relay signals across multiple constellations, it’s clear the industry is on a multi-orbit trajectory. All of this raises questions about the new market opportunities and use cases for this next level of seamless satellite connectivity.

This is a selection of an article that was originally published by Via Satellite, a sister publication to Avionics International. It has been edited. Click here to read the full version >>

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