Telesat to begin construction of Lightspeed LEO Ka-band network

Satellite operator Telesat is moving forward with its plans to join the LEO (low Earth orbit) space race, announcing that it has entered into an agreement with Thales Alenia Space to be the prime manufacturer for its new 298-satellite Ka-band network, named Lightspeed.

The network is being designed to deliver broadband to mobile users, like those in maritime, as well as aeronautical, government and enterprise customers, and fixed and mobile network operators.

Operating under Telesat’s global Ka-band priority spectrum rights, the first Lightspeed satellites are expected to be launched in approximately two years, with customer beta testing beginning shortly thereafter and commercial services commencing in the second half of 2023.

“We are very pleased to be moving forward with Thales Alenia Space on Lightspeed, the most advanced and capable LEO network in the world,” said Dan Goldberg, President and CEO of Telesat.

“As the world’s leader in manufacturing and implementing cutting edge global satellite constellations, Thales Alenia Space is the right industrial partner to deliver Lightspeed, a fully integrated global communications network that will revolutionise satellite-delivered broadband and give Telesat and its customers a decisive competitive edge in this high growth market.”

“The name Lightspeed underscores the essential speed advantages inherent to Telesat’s LEO design. Lightspeed is the most technologically capable satellite communications network in history and exploits the latest advances in space-based data processing, laser communications, digital antenna technology and machine learning.”

Operating approximately 1,000 kilometres above Earth in a LEO configuration, Lightspeed will feature phased array antennas on each satellite that are combined with beam hopping technology to create approximately 135,000 beams that can dynamically focus multiple Gbps of capacity into demand hotspots such as major ports.

The combined capacity of the 298-satellite network is 15 Tbps, with Telesat promising maximum data rates of up to 7.5 Gbps to a single terminal, or up to 20 Gbps in a single ‘hotspot’ region, like a sea port.

Each satellite will also be constructed with four high-capacity optical links to allow signals to move between different orbiting satellites in the network, eliminating the potential issue of coverage gaps where a user far from a ground station in the middle of an ocean could struggle to connect if signals need to travel directly from satellite to ground.

Satellites will operate in both polar and inclined orbital planes to ensure global coverage, concentrating capacity in areas where it is most needed, the company said.

Telesat’s first LEO test satellite was launched in January 2018 has since been conducting live demonstrations, including a test completed in late 2019 with Intellian and the US Navy that confirmed a working connection with an Intellian v150NX Ka-band convertible maritime VSAT antenna.

Thales Alenia Space and its affiliate Telespazio have already made a Lightspeed capacity commitment in connection with the agreement, the companies have confirmed.

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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