Later this week, the first two of the eleven satellites that will eventually comprise the SES O3b mPOWER satellite constellation will launch into space onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The satellites are tentatively scheduled to depart Cape Canaveral Friday evening with a final destination of Medium Earth Orbit (MEO).
While the launch of these first two satellites will not immediately result in the SES O3b mPOWER satellite service becoming available to government users, it’s a massive first step in what will be a revolutionary introduction to the commercial satellite industry. And it’s a long time in the making. The SES O3b mPOWER satellite service was first announced in September 2017 and has been anxiously awaited by military and government satellite customers ever since.
With the launch right around the corner, the Government Satellite Report sat down with the CEO of SES Space and Defense, David Fields, to discuss the SES O3b mPOWER service. During our discussion, we asked why the service is considered revolutionary across the satellite industry, why government and military users are excited about its launch, and the technology trends that are making this new service necessary.
Government Satellite Report (GSR): The first O3b mPOWER satellites are tentatively slated to launch later this week. Why is this such an exciting milestone for SES Government Solutions? What about these new satellites is so revolutionary?
David Fields: It’s important to understand that the O3b mPOWER satellite service represents a truly transformational advancement in commercial satellite capability. The O3b mPOWER service is a massive breakthrough in the delivery of satellite capacity from non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).
Being positioned in MEO enables the O3b mPOWER satellites to deliver incredible capacity at extremely low latency. This higher throughput and lower latency are ideal for many of the advanced IT solutions and capabilities that are being implemented across the U.S. government and military today.
Our government and military customers need lower latency and higher throughput. They need a more simple and more flexible ground infrastructure that is more customizable and easier to secure. They need the ability to leverage sovereign gateways. O3b mPOWER delivers all of these things to our government and military users.
The service is not a closed system. It enables military and government users to leverage their own gateways. It enables them to bring their own waveforms. It’s compliant with all of their most rigid security requirements.
O3b mPOWER delivers all of these things because it was built with the needs of our government and military users in mind. It wasn’t designed to be a consumer solution that is also available to the government. SES built O3b mPOWER from the bottom up to meet government and military requirements.
GSR: If you were a government or military organization, why would O3b mPOWER be important for you? What trends are we seeing in the government that make the launch of O3b mPOWER an important development?
David Fields: That’s a great question, and it really comes down to data. Just look at the military – in particular. The amount of sensor data, the amount of video, and the amount of data – in general – that is being aggregated in theater and that needs to be transmitted back to senior military decision-makers is enormous now.
The amount of data that is being generated is staggering. And for that data to be useful for the military, it needs to be made available, analyzed for actionable insights, and shared in real time. That’s what will enable the military to make better, more data-driven decisions.
“We’re very excited to see these first satellites launched and get into orbit…There will be several additional launches after this initial launch. However, these first satellites that we’re launching will enable us to validate the service and capabilities.” – David Fields
The applications that the government and military leverage at the tactical edge will only continue to expand to fill the amount of bandwidth that these organizations can afford to buy. Our goal with O3b mPOWER is to deliver a cost-effective satellite service that delivers high-throughput, low-latency bandwidth when they need it, and where they need it.
GSR: When we talk to people about O3b mPOWER and the benefits that it will deliver, the capacity and low latency are usually the first things they mention. But there is more to O3b mPOWER than that – the satellites will also offer more flexibility. Why would the government care about that?
David Fields: These satellites are some of the most capable ever built. This enables them to deliver incredible flexibility for government users. O3b mPOWER gives government and military users the ability to define and steer beams. This is immensely important since it enables users to place a beam of satellite capacity where they need it and when they need it.
This means that government users are not locked into paying for an established amount of capacity or coverage that they don’t need. If they need capacity for a small group of naval vessels, or a small squad of warfighters, or even a single ISR aircraft, they can put a beam where they need it to meet that requirement.
Also, O3b mPOWER enables asymmetric capability. This means that the outbound and inbound capacity is not fixed. If more inbound capacity is needed, the inbound satellite capacity can be increased. If an ISR mission requires mostly outbound data so that HD video can be transmitted in real-time, that can also be accommodated. Government and military users will have the flexibility to tailor the capacity in either direction to meet their unique mission requirements.
GSR: Security is a major issue for the military today. How can O3b mPOWER protect military networks and data at a time when satellite is more essential, but the space and cyber domains are increasingly threatened?
David Fields: The nature of the O3b mPOWER satellites, themselves, make them more secure and more assured for government and military users. The ability to provision and steer a small beam of connectivity makes O3b mPOWER inherently more assured than wide beam satellite solutions.
The smaller beams that are utilized by O3b mPOWER are harder to locate for adversaries. They’re also harder to deny. As you know, satellite jamming needs to happen from within the beam, so a smaller beam is – by its nature – more difficult to jam for adversaries.
“The service is not a closed system. It enables military and government users to leverage their own gateways. It enables them to bring their own waveforms. It’s compliant with all of their most rigid security requirements.” – David Fields
But, jamming aside, security and assurance come down to the resiliency of the network.
Since the O3b mPOWER satellite service was designed with government and military users in mind, SES has ensured that they can bring their own waveform. This includes protected waveforms. Also, since the service was purpose-built for government and military users, it offers something that many commercial satellites can’t – bandwidth that is always available when and where they need it.
The O3b mPOWER satellite service offers capacity that is committed to government and military users, which ensures that they’re not competing with other authorized users. There won’t be a lack of capacity for government or military users because gamers, or consumers that are streaming entertainment content are dominating the capacity.
GSR: What advanced use cases and capabilities could you envision the government and military leveraging O3b mPOWER for in the immediate future?
David Fields: SES was one of the first companies to build an NGSO commercial capability. We have years of experience operating an NGSO constellation and truly understand the advantages and disadvantages of NGSO commercial satellite services.
O3b mPOWER leverages that experience and expands on our ability to deliver capabilities that government and military users have been asking for. That includes things like mobility and comms on the move for our military users.
“These satellites are some of the most capable ever built. This enables them to deliver incredible flexibility for government users.” – David Fields
Since O3b mPOWER provides smaller, more powerful beams, it can deliver capabilities to smaller antennas for use in ISR, land mobility, and other use cases that require small aperture terminals. These are capabilities that have not been served to date and are in high demand from our government and military users.
GSR: Obviously, when it comes to satellite services and solutions, the launch of a satellite doesn’t mean that the service is immediately available. What needs to happen in space after the satellites are launched? How long will it take for the satellites to come online? When will O3b mPOWER service be available for users?
David Fields: Every journey begins with a single step, and the O3b mPOWER journey begins this week with this launch. The current launch date is tentatively scheduled for December 16, 2022. That launch starts the process.
We’re very excited to see these first satellites launched and get into orbit. But, as with any NGSO satellite service, the satellites do not remain in a fixed point or location in the sky. This means that you need to have the full constellation launched for it to function.
There will be several additional launches after this initial launch. However, these first satellites that we’re launching will enable us to validate the service and capabilities. As the additional satellites are launched, SES will be building out the network and testing functionality to ensure that O3b mPOWER is ready for customers when it comes online.
We anticipate that this revolutionary service will be available for our users in Q3 of 2023.