The first ViaSat-3 satellite successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on Sunday night, beginning its short ride to geostationary orbit where it will open the next generation of satellite communications, including the inflight market. The launch was not without some drama, including three scrubbed attempts earlier in the week, and a shift to the end of the launch window on Sunday to ensure favorable weather. But with the satellite now safely in orbit the company can move on to testing and validation, with the goal of bringing it online for customers in just a couple months.
The system is really revolutionary on how dramatically we can move capacity around and how quickly we can do it. It is totally electronic, and we can change it in a heartbeat and continue to modify it as the technology evolves. I can’t wait to see that actually work, so it is exciting.– David Ryan, Senior Vice President and President, Space & Commercial Networks
Getting it online that quickly is enabled, in large part, by the use of a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. Rather than launching to a parking orbit and raising to GEO using on-board thrusters, the rocket handled the lift, putting the satellite much, much closer to its final orbital slot directly from the ground. David Ryan, Viasat’s SVP & President, Space & Commercial Networks, expects to go into service “in the July timeframe” thanks to the extra launch boost.
And that capacity cannot come online fast enough for the company’s aviation business. The company has more than 2,000 aircraft online today. The vast majority of those are in the Americas, with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and JetBlue. And for Don Buchman, vice president and general manager of Commercial Aviation at Viasat, that capacity boost is critical to continuing the company’s growth in the aero segment. “We’ve been super successful where we have capacity. But we need more.”
That additional capacity will help unlock future opportunities for airlines, keeping the price steady or lower while enabling more airlines to have more bandwidth on each plane. “We’ve always pushed the idea that connectivity could be free [to passengers],” Buchman explains. “JetBlue started that way. Delta is now doing it. But one thing airlines are all wary of is, ‘If I go free, is there capacity to support it?’ These new satellites remove that constraint.”
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