Scott Sprague of Isotropic Systems discusses a new generation of satellite antennas

In March of this year, SES and Isotropic Systems announced that they were entering into a new phase of their collaborative partnership to develop, “scalable, cost-effective multi-beam customer edge terminal antennas capable of unlocking access to the groundbreaking O3b mPOWER system across government and defense, telco and cellular backhaul, aerospace, maritime, and offshore markets.”

While many companies in the space and satellite industry treat every iteration and new development in their product catalog as a revolutionary step forward for the industry, as a whole, the collaboration between SES and Isotropic truly has the potential to deliver new, disruptive capabilities to end-users – especially for military users.

The military has long hungered for a satellite terminal capable of conforming to small footprints – such as vehicles for mounted land operations, ships at sea and aircraft – capable of connecting users to multiple satellites in multiple orbits. And that’s exactly what the partnership between Isotropic Systems and SES is intended to deliver.

To learn more about the partnership between the two companies, and to get an inside look at the satellite terminals that they’re jointly looking to bring to market, we recently sat down with Scott Sprague, the Chief Commercial Officer at Isotropic Systems. In part one of our two-part discussion with Scott, we asked about why this new terminal antenna is so exciting for the satellite industry, and why – in particular – there is so much demand for it in the government, defense and aerospace markets today.

Here is what he had to say:

Government Satellite Report (GSR): Can you tell our readers a little bit about Isotropic Systems and the solutions that it manufactures?

Scott Sprague: Isotropic Systems is the leading developer of transformational broadband terminals and terminal technologies designed to unleash a new level of high-powered connectivity across a broad range of commercial and government markets.

Our high-performance multi-beam terminals feature optical lens modules that are conformal to the fuselage of a plane, the deck of a ship, even a soldier’s backpack. These patented optical beamforming lens technologies allow commercial and government market users to simultaneously connect with full performance beams to multiple satellites in multiple orbits over a single antenna. That’s a huge game-changer in key markets such as government and aerospace.

GSR: What industries can Isotropic Systems serve with its disruptive terminal technology and why is the company focused on the government, defense, and aerospace markets right now?

Scott Sprague: Enterprise, telco, maritime, aerospace, defense, and government markets will all greatly benefit from the Isotropic Systems terminal solutions. Defense, government, and aerospace – both commercial and government aviation markets – have expressed intense interest and demand for a truly transformational multi-beam antenna.

Engineers with U.S. government and defense agencies have tried to develop antenna technologies capable of unlocking the full potential of new high throughput Ka-band satellite capacity coming online in GEO, LEO, and MEO in the 2022 timeframe. And they are absolutely thrilled that Isotropic Systems has cracked the code and is in the latter stages of developing what has recently been called the Holy Grail of terminals.

Our multi-beam antenna, with its optical lens technologies, allows government and armed forces to arbitrage capacity from commercial and military satellites over a single terminal to deliver data at the tactical edge like never before. As a result, Isotropic Systems recently won an antenna evaluation and development contract with the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to test the ability of our multi-beam antennas to unleash high-powered connectivity aboard next-generation Navy ships at sea. And we’ve won additional major contracts to enable other defense agencies and armed forces that will open a new world of real-time government communications and connectivity.

The Isotropic Systems terminal roadmap leads to a multi-beam, multi-frequency terminal that allows users to leverage every bit of capacity in the sky. That is truly deep technology that is delivering the unparalleled connectivity for government, defense, aerospace, and enterprise markets.

GSR: Isotropic is currently working with SES on the development of digital software-defined terminals for use with the O3b MEO and O3b mPOWER satellite services. What will make these satellite terminals different from what is already on the market?

Scott Sprague: SES and Isotropic Systems are deep into a new developmental phase of our collaborative partnership to produce scalable, cost-effective multi-beam terminals capable of unlocking access to the SES GEO and MEO fleet, including the existing O3b constellation, the new O3b mPOWER system, and SES-17, which is set to launch late next year. SES and Isotropic Systems are collaborating closely to review, refine, and test key components of our full line of customized digital software-defined terminals throughout the remainder of the year.

Isotropic Systems has developed and is utilizing patented transformational optics and circuitry in our terminals, which are resilient, secure, lightweight, and require a minimal amount of power. The optical lens technology at the core of our antenna solution is the key differentiator that enables our antenna to simultaneously connect to multiple satellites.

Our platform only uses the optical beam elements necessary to link to the mix of satellites needed to enable a specific mission or operation, requiring far less power per beam and generating less heat than phased array antennas. And while electronically-steered antennas are being developed to provide multi-beam capabilities, they are not full performance beams. Isotropic Systems’ patented optical beam forming technology allows us to offer multiple full performance beams.

GSR: What unique requirements do the O3b MEO and O3b mPOWER constellation have regarding terminals? What unique challenges do these constellations create?

Scott Sprague: They do not present any unique challenges for the Isotropic Systems terminals. In fact, what they present are opportunities.  The Isotropic Systems terminal is being designed to unleash the full performance – power and flexibility – of the SES fleet.

Having a terminal that provides multiple full performance beams will allow the SES customers to take full advantage of the world-class capacity and coverage afforded by the SES network.

In our next article on the Government Satellite Report, we’ll feature part two of the two-part discussion with Scott Sprague, where we talk about the specific military use cases and applications for this new technology and how it will work hand-in-hand with O3b mPOWER.

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