Space

Astranis unveils Omega ‘MicroGEO’ satellites for beaming dedicated broadband down from high orbit

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Astranis Omega 'MicroGEO' satellites beaming dedicated broadband to Earth
Image Credits: Astranis

Astranis has taken the wraps off a new generation of communications satellites that will serve broadband to customers on Earth from geostationary orbit, but faster and smaller than any comsat up there. They believe the future of orbital communications is not just in higher orbits, but in the possibility of customers — government and commercial — having their very own private satellite network.

Called Omega, the new class of satellites will each provide some 50 gigabits per second of bandwidth in both civilian and military Ka bands — making it clear from the outset that this is intended to be a dual-use technology.

Astranis builds and operates relatively small broadband satellites in high orbits, and sells that capacity on to telecom and internet service providers. The company has contracts to provide capacity to providers in Mexico, the Philippines, Alaska and southeast Asia.

The startup takes pride in the comparatively diminutive size of its GEO satellites, which are normally huge and, as a result, easy to track and potentially attack.

“We need to move to a more resilient architecture. No more big, fat, juicy targets!” said Astranis CEO John Gedmark at an event at Space Symposium where the news was announced.

The improved bandwidth is thanks to a next-gen Astranis software-defined radio, but the signal is deployed more efficiently; while the previous generation sent down a set of coherent beams, like spotlights, the new generation is more like a big LED array, providing even signal across a much greater area. Gedmark said that although the number of points that can be served depends on the customer and use case, it is theoretically in the millions. The satellites use existing Ka-band receivers rather than a bespoke antenna like Starlink’s.

Speaking of competitors: When asked about how the orbital communications market would develop in the near term, Gedmark was highly optimistic. He said that the appetite for bandwidth is effectively unlimited, at least at the prices they are able to offer, which are well below legacy GEO data connections.

Image Credits: Astranis (opens in a new window)

Notably, Astranis said the satellite will support specific waveforms that are of interest to the DOD, like the Protected Tactical Waveform, so it can still provide capacity even in contested environments. Astranis’ proposal — many small satellites in GEO — is a far cry from legacy tech, which has generally relied on very large, and very expensive, non-maneuverable satellites in GEO. In other words, sitting ducks for adversaries.

Like the company’s current satellites, Omega will have the ability to maneuver in GEO using on-board all-electric propulsion. Astranis said the more efficient thrust will allow it to keep its station for at least 10 years, as well as perform plenty of repositioning and other maneuvers. By that time the next generation will probably be ready to slot into place.

What will perhaps be Astranis’ standout product, however, will be dedicated satellites for customers. Obviously nations have their own dedicated spy satellites and the like, but these cost hundreds of millions of dollars and are often funded by defense budgets. But even multinational corporations don’t tend to have that kind of cash laying around, for that purpose at least — and if they did, they don’t tend to have satellite management departments. Astranis plans to essentially offer “satellite as a service” instead, where for an upfront and monthly fee a satellite can be tasked completely (or in part) to the use of a single customer.

Gedmark declined to name any of the companies that had expressed interest or were being wooed in other ways, but he did suggest that energy and oil and gas companies are an obvious one, with holdings across large geographical areas and demand for a good deal of secure satellite data. He also said that, while there are no official plans as yet to approach the cislunar market, there is a huge opportunity there for future growth.

The company aims to complete the first Omega satellite in 2025 and launch to orbit in 2026. The plan is to launch on the order of six satellites at that time, with as many as 24 per year being launched after that depending on how manufacturing scales up.

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