Ground segments—The unsung heroes of the satellite ecosystem


Today’s satellite constellations play an essential role in enabling the missions of government agencies and military organizations. A new generation of high-throughput satellites in multiple different orbits are delivering the connectivity needed to gather intelligence from sensors and devices, enable resilient comms for warfighters in theater, and even provide Earth observation services for critical scientific missions. There are many organizations across the U.S. government – both civilian and military – that are reliant on the advanced technologies being developed in the satellite industry.

But today’s modern satellite applications would not be made possible without their ground segment counterparts. Within the space and satellite industries, ground segments can sometimes be viewed as “unsung heroes,” and without the support of terrestrial networks on the ground, the critical services that both military and civilian agencies depend on for daily business would not exist.

To learn more about terrestrial networks and ground segments, as well as the role they play in supporting government and military missions, the Government Satellite Report sat down with Nikhil Junankar, Director of Network Engineering at SES Space & Defense.

Government Satellite Report (GSR): When we discuss satellite services, we often focus on the satellites, themselves. However, there is also a terrestrial network and ground segment that plays a role in these services. What role does the ground segment play in satellite communications? What is this ground segment composed of?

Nikhil Junankar: The ground segment is an integral component that often goes overlooked in favor of focusing solely on the satellites themselves. However, understanding the role of the ground segment is crucial to comprehending the full picture of end-to-end satellite solutions.

Comprised of a diverse range of elements, the ground segment plays a pivotal role in facilitating effective and reliable global satellite communications. The ground segment consists of ground stations, control centers, and Network Operations Centers (NOCs) that are all connected by a terrestrial fiber network.

Ground stations establish bidirectional communication with the satellites, and include teleports, satellite gateways, and deployed satellite terminals. Furthermore, teleports serve as centralized hubs, managing the routing and distribution of satellite traffic, while control centers monitor and manage satellite operations, ensuring optimal functionality and coordinating activities like orbit adjustments. NOCs, on the other hand, handle network operations, traffic routing, troubleshooting, and security, maintaining the integrity of the ground segment network.

“While satellites capture a lot of attention in the media and public, the ground segment plays an indispensable role.” -Nikhil Junankar

The ground segment encompasses terrestrial fiber networks, enabling connectivity between the teleports, gateways, and the broader network ecosystem. These terrestrial networks serve as the backbone for exchanging data between other ground segment elements, that include customer points of presence, the Internet, and the cloud. They facilitate the seamless transfer of information, supporting voice, data, and video services.

While satellites capture a lot of attention in the media and public, the ground segment plays an indispensable role. It enables the delivery of services, supports satellite operations and control, and ensures the reliability, efficiency, and widespread coverage of satellite communications.

GSR: Is the ground segment and terrestrial network something that satellite customers can design and build themselves, or are they reliant on their satellite service providers for this network?

Nikhil Junankar: Unlike many of our competitors, we offer a unique approach with our sovereign service offerings. We empower our customers by providing the flexibility to design and build their own ground segment and terrestrial network within our ecosystem. At SES Space & Defense, we understand that each customer may have specific requirements and preferences when it comes to their network infrastructure.

With our open approach, customers can take an active role in designing and implementing their ground segment and tailoring it to their specific needs. While certain essential functions, such as NOC operations and satellite control, remain under SES’s purview to ensure seamless integration and overall system reliability, customers have the freedom to shape their network architecture within our framework.

This approach allows our customers to have greater control and ownership over their satellite communication infrastructure while benefiting from the expertise and support provided by SES.

GSR: What are some of the key characteristics customers should be looking for in a satellite provider’s terrestrial network and ground segment? What considerations should they keep in mind when evaluating providers?

Nikhil Junankar: When evaluating a satellite provider’s terrestrial network and ground segment, customers should consider several key characteristics to ensure they choose a reliable and robust service. One crucial aspect to prioritize is availability. In today’s digital age, the internet has become a utility, and customers should seek a provider that can deliver a consistently available connection. This includes addressing redundancy and recovery measures at every level of the ground segment.

For a highly available ground segment, aspects such as power supply to ground stations, UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) design (such as N+1 or 1:1 redundancy), on-site generators, and the frequency of generator testing should be taken into account. Adequate redundancy in these areas ensures that power failures or other disruptions do not lead to service outages.

“Overall, customers should prioritize availability, redundancy, and disaster recovery measures when evaluating a satellite provider’s terrestrial network and ground segment.” -Nikhil Junankar

Another consideration is redundancy in antenna systems. Multiple antennas with failover capabilities provide backup options in case of antenna failures, ensuring uninterrupted satellite communication. This redundancy enhances the reliability of the overall system.

In terms of the terrestrial network, diverse circuit and fiber routes are important. By utilizing multiple routes, providers can mitigate the risk of service disruption. Diverse routing helps ensure that a single point of failure does not impact the entire network.

Overall, customers should prioritize availability, redundancy, and disaster recovery measures when evaluating a satellite provider’s terrestrial network and ground segment. By considering these factors and selecting a provider that demonstrates a commitment to these key characteristics, customers can ensure a reliable and uninterrupted satellite communication service.

GSR: What is SES Space & Defense’s GCN? What separates and differentiates the GCN from other satellite services and ground segments?

Nikhil Junankar: SES Space & Defense’s Global Communications Network (GCN) connects satellite services to the various ground segment elements with its carrier-grade MPLS network. With Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPN, high-speed Internet, and seamless cloud integration, the GCN empowers customers worldwide. What sets it apart is the active Authority to Operate (ATO) and Authority to Connect (ATC) from the U.S. government, ensuring robust security and compliance. Customers benefit from the GCN’s stringent security protocols and compliance with industry best practices. Their critical data and communication channels are protected by robust security measures, ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability requirements are met.

The GCN is a transformative force in end-to-end satellite solutions. Its carrier-grade MPLS network, comprehensive services, and active ATO and ATC deliver secure, scalable, and reliable connectivity.

GSR: What different kinds of satellite services can customers get connected to through SES Space & Defense’s GCN? Can they only access services from SES’s satellite constellations?

Nikhil Junankar: The GCN goes beyond the SES satellite constellation by offering customers access to a variety of satellite services. As an agnostic network, the GCN provides terrestrial and backhaul connectivity from multiple operators.

We have peering arrangements with all major operators to deliver multi-orbit, multi-band solutions. Additionally, the GCN seamlessly supports SES’s upcoming O3b mPOWER satellite constellation. Customers can enjoy the flexibility to choose services that best suit their needs, leveraging the extensive reach and capabilities of the GCN.

While satellites often take centerstage, ground segments are the “unsung heroes” of government satellite ecosystems. Leveraging SES Space & Defense’s open approach and sovereign service offerings in conjunction with the GCN, enables customers to tailor their ground segments and terrestrial networks to their specific requirements while benefiting from robust security and reliable connectivity.

To view SES Space & Defense’s global network coverage, click the image below:
ground segment

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