Satellite Executives Discuss the Multi-Orbit Paradigm at GOVSATCOM 2024


According to Bill Joo, Special Project Manager of the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, the U.S. Navy believes that it should be able to access and use any satellite constellation at any time – regardless of vendor or orbit – in order to accomplish a mission at hand. This notion that the U.S. military can leverage best-suited SATCOM orbits, channels, and networks at a moment’s notice to fulfill mission requirements goes hand-in-hand with the U.S. Department of Defense’s goal of standing up a hybrid space architecture.

At this year’s GOVSATCOM conference, multi-orbit SATCOM took center stage as representatives from SES Space & Defense, Viasat, and OneWeb convened for a special session, “The New Multi-Orbit Paradigm,” to examine the logistics behind making these on-demand satellite connectivity and communications capabilities a reality.

SES Space & Defense CEO, David Fields, kicked off the discussion by highlighting the implications of the satellite industry’s shift from geosynchronous (GEO) SATCOM capabilities to non-GEO solutions. “The shift to non-GEO has really added an incredible amount of complexity to what we’ve done over the past few years,” said Fields. “Operators now must think differently about how they manage the networks, manage that complexity, and how we are going to vertically integrate.”

Fields explained that SES Space & Defense is turning its attention to leveraging its GEO and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations for other space capabilities, like hosted payloads, sensors, space relay, and other future solutions that are coming down the pike. Focusing on other applications and uses of GEO and MEO constellations will enable the company to maximize the capabilities it delivers to its customers.

“The point is how do we make sure we deliver a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to customers like the Navy who have mission critical solutions and mission critical requirements,” said Fields. “This is really driving the change in partnerships…Everyone has to be invested in the mission’s success in order for that to happen.”

According to Fields, when it comes to multi-orbit SATCOM, SES Space & Defense has been an all-orbit provider for quite some time. “We have our own GEO fleet, and we have our own MEO fleet,” said Fields. “But we also partner with all the LEO providers as well.”

Fields explained that by partnering with LEO providers, SES Space & Defense is extending enterprises out to remote locations with a staggering number of applications that are being deployed. “It’s not about one orbit, but it’s about all the orbits,” he said. “It’s about what’s the application. Sometimes LEO is going to be the best application, and sometimes it may be MEO or GEO. I don’t think it’s an ‘or’ scenario. It’s an ‘and’ scenario. So how do we tie those things together?”

Expanding on this idea of applications leveraging all-orbits when necessary, Fields stated that it’s critical for providers to put the customer’s mission first and ensure its success. “If that’s not successful, we’re not going to be successful,” he said.

Andy Lincoln, Viasat’s Chief Engineer of Global Space Networks, agreed with Fields, saying that the future of SATCOM lies in the idea of hybrid networking. “The multi-orbits are all important because they have different capabilities and limitations,” he said. “They’re like children. You have to love them all, but sometimes for different reasons.”

Being able to meet the complex satellite requirements of multi-orbit military missions is a primary goal of the DoD’s hybrid SATCOM architecture. And the DoD has made major strides in giving direction and painting a picture of what capabilities and solutions it wants from the commercial satellite industry.

“I think the biggest piece that was missing in the past – when it came to government interaction – was the lack of conveying vision,” said Fields. “What [the DoD] has done in the past few years – through the hybrid SATCOM architecture – is laying out a roadmap and vision for where we want to go. That is critical.”

In addition to the DoD’s progress in articulating its architecture vision to commercial industry, the Department has also seen constructive improvements in the procurement and acquisition arenas. “A lot of positive things have happened in the last couple of years as managed services have been procured by the government,” said Lincoln. He explained that the government has a better understanding of off-the-shelf solutions, their terms, conditions, and features – as well as their capabilities and limitations.

“They’ve learned…that you can buy it or not buy it. That’s good training for the acquisition professionals in the government,” Lincoln said.

To watch the full GOVSATCOM session, “The New Multi-Orbit Paradigm,” click the video below:

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