In January, SES announced plans to launch a dedicated satellite for governmental use in partnership with the Luxembourg Government. The new spacecraft, which is scheduled for launch in late 2017, will be owned and operated by a Luxembourg-based company which will be jointly held by SES and the Luxembourg Government.
This new satellite, which is being referred to as “GovSat,” will provide satellite communications and connectivity to government customers via high-powered and steerable spot beams that utilize dedicated military frequencies – known as X-band and military Ka-band.
To learn more about “GovSat” and its possible use cases for the U.S. and other world governments, we sat down with Jürgen Espanion, head of Government & Institutions (G&I) for SES and Tim Deaver, the Vice President of Corporate Development at SES Space and Defense. Here is what they had to say:
GovSat Report: What will be the mission of this governmental satellite?
Mr. Espanion: GovSat will be a geostationary telecommunications satellite operating in frequency bands reserved for military communication services, known as X-band and military Ka-band. The capacity will be made available to governmental and institutional customers for defense and governmental applications.
The high-powered and fully steerable spot beams will be able to support multiple operations. The spacecraft will be positioned over the European arc with coverage areas over Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
GovSat Report: How did the “GovSat” program come to be? Where did the concept originate from?
Mr. Espanion: It really started as an idea many years ago when G&I first formed. However, the first concrete talks with the Luxembourg government about a dedicated satellite for governmental use started later, in 2008, when we had the potential to work with Norway on a dedicated military satellite. Norway did not possess the orbital rights and would have needed to work with SES and the Luxembourg Government to launch their own dedicated government satellite. Unfortunately, it never came together.
However, we were dedicated to the concept of a government specific satellite that would utilize military frequencies to connect government entities. We were able to get the Luxembourg Government on board as the anchor customer and proceeded with plans for the construction and launch of the spacecraft.
GovSat Report: Is this the first partnership between SES and the Luxembourg government? Why was Luxembourg interested in the “GovSat” program?
Mr. Espanion: We are actually working with the Luxembourg government on several ESA initiatives. With regard to defense, we have actually already been providing satellite capacity and services to the Luxembourg Ministry of Defence and partners of the North Atlantic Alliance since 2009.
GovSat is an important contribution for Luxembourg to the NATO alliance. The Luxembourg government will be able to offer satellite capacity to other governments, NATO or the EU. Luxembourg, as a highly respected member of inter-governmental organizations, provides privileged access to other governments and international organizations as potential customers for the GovSat capacity.
Mr. Deaver: It’s important to also point out that – as a member of NATO – Luxembourg and other nations make contributions – financial or otherwise – to the organization. Luxembourg will have the ability to purchase and donate capacity from GovSat to other NATO nations, which will make this capacity available to them at no cost.
GovSat Report: What other governments would be able to utilize “GovSat?” What use cases would they have for the satellite?
Mr. Deaver: We set out to build and launch the first true commercial satellite that is meant for strictly government use and that utilizes the X-band and military Ka-band. The GovSat satellite is built specifically to be compatible and work seamlessly with existing government satellite networks.
That being said, GovSat would be extremely valuable to NATO and other nations that have significant military presences and operations in the satellite’s coverage area, which – as Jürgen stated – includes Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Countries, such as the United States, could utilize GovSat to help increase the available bandwidth, deliver essential military data and support their missions in a part of the globe where they not only have a large military presence, but are currently conducting military operations.
GovSat Report: With multiple nations utilizing “GovSat” to distribute mission-critical data, I would assume security is a major concern and priority. Was security taken into account in the conceptualization and execution of the “GovSat” program?
Mr. Deaver: Security is obviously a major concern when it comes to data and communications from multiple nations being transmitted by the same satellite. Although I can’t give out too many specifics, I can say that GovSat was designed and built with features designed to meet all information assurance requirements of the U.S. government and other nations.
GovSat Report: What is the status of the program? Where does “GovSat” stand today? What’s the next big milestone in the project?
Mr. Espanion: We have evaluated offers from satellite manufacturers in order to procure the GovSat and SES teams are working on the so-called ‘Bringing Into Use’ (BIU) mission of the required frequency filings, which will ensure that the GovSat can operate under a Luxembourg filing. All told, the “GovSat” spacecraft is intended for launch and operation in 2017.
For more information on the “GovSat” program, click on these additional resources:
SES Orders New Satellite in Joint Venture with Luxembourg
Airbus, Boeing and Orbital ATK Split SES Satellite Order