The Telesat LEO satellite constellation received a major boost this week from the Canadian government. The government will commit to CAD$600 million in spending over ten years, supporting the nation’s commitment to providing high-speed connectivity to all its residents. An additional CAD$85 million from the government’s Strategic Investment Fund will support the R&D efforts involved in building out the satellite network and pressing it into service.
Today’s announcement will help achieve Canada’s goal of universal connectivity, ensuring that Canadians, regardless of where they work or live, have affordable, high quality, and high-speed Internet. Telesat LEO has garnered substantial interest from commercial enterprises and governments around the world. That interest, together with the funding received from the Strategic Innovation Fund and Canada’s plan to secure Telesat LEO capacity on a long-term basis for Canadians, underpin Telesat’s plan to fully bridge the digital divide with this advanced Telesat LEO Constellation.– Dan Goldberg, Telesat President and CEO
Telesat’s first LEO satellite launched in early 2018 and is being used by many partners to validate interoperability of systems and services on the new network. Ultimately the Telesat constellation will consist of 298 satellites in low earth orbit, providing high-speed data coverage everywhere on the globe.
While the announcement focuses on the impact to Canadians the broader value proposition is significant, particularly in the inflight connectivity segment. LEO constellations are expected to deliver significant improvements to capacity and coverage in the mobility market and airline connectivity providers are already working on integrating the new constellations into their service offerings. Global Eagle successfully tested its antenna system against the Telesat system in late 2018, switching between the LEO and geosynchronous orbit satellites without dropping the connection. A similar test from Ball Aerospace demonstrated connectivity with an electronically steered phased array (i.e. flat panel) antenna at the beginning of 2019, though not in flight. Mechanical phased array antenna manufacturer ThinKom proved its Ka2517 kit can also connect to the Phase 1 LEO satellite from Telesat just last month.
The mobility segment usage of these satellites will likely be small relative to the terrestrial needs in Canada, but the orbital paths deliver global coverage, not just over Canada. Finding ways to keep the satellites busy and generating revenue as they traverse the rest of the globe is also important for Telesat and aviation represents a strong opportunity on that front.
All of these tests are good news for the industry but they rely on the satellite operators finding the necessary funding to put their constellations into service. OneWeb hyped its first tranche of satellites in service earlier this month as it opened the manufacturing facility that will produce hundreds more of the satellites in the coming years. And SpaceX put 60 satellites into orbit earlier this year, beginning the buildout of its LEO constellation.
The competition is arguably good for the market, promising lower costs to end-users and multiple options for service. But the satellites are expensive, as it getting them into orbit. Long-term funding for the constellations is critical. Government backing will help Telesat’s position in this market and should aid the company in attracting other commercial partners.