ViaSat, a California-based global communications company, has been selected by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to provide on-orbit space relay connectivity for its ARABLEST programme on 7 June.

ARABLEST aims to support the spaced-based connectivity enabling the US Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct military operations. The AFRL mission will illustrate the advantages of enabling real-time, global connectivity between the DoD’s low earth orbit (LEO) spacecraft and commercial geostationary satellites.

Viasat will use its Viasat-3 constellation of satellites to deliver this high capacity level. The constellation comprises three satellites that can each provide one Ka-band terrabit per second.

This capability provides continuous coverage for LEO spacecraft anywhere in the world and at any time in their orbit. To give a comparable sense of the system’s capacity, one Viasat-3 satellite has a capacity that is 2.3 times greater than the company’s entire previous satellite fleets.

One spokesperson told Airforce Technology that this capacity works on a “transformative” scale.

President of Viasat Government Systems, Craig Miller, stated: “This real-time space relay capability will offer an efficient method of moving LEO satellite data to the ground for operations.

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“Most importantly, this technology will help increase resilience for future US space missions and benefit warfighters with more direct, immediate access to information and data to improve situational awareness.”

What does Viasat-3 bring to the table?

This contract comes off the heels of Viasat’s recent satellite launch of Viasat-3 aboard SpaceX Falcon Heavy at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on 1 May.

When asked about how Viasat-3 is different from other satellite communication (SATCOM) systems, Miller told Airforce Technology that it works as an eco-system.

Rather than a spacecraft that performs the task of processing data traffic, it is a system of systems that comprises a many ground-based gateways that receive data; a terrestrial fibre; a management network; various types of terminals and user equipment behind those terminals.

“That’s really what’s different about Viasat-3. It’s not just the spacecraft. It’s a network that was designed from the ground up to work together.

“It makes trades across the different domains in the network and optimises the capability of the network; that’s how we’re able to make terabit satellites and no one else has come close,” Miller said.

The future of SATCOM

Despite the great leap forward Viasat-3 has introduced to the SATCOM industry already, we are still left asking: what’s next?

“On the individual satellite level you’ll see continued increases in performance. So Viasat-3 is sort of a step-functioning increase where it’s maybe four times better than the next best satellite that’s ever been built in terms of capacity.

“I think you’ll continue to see that. The next best satellite we build after Viasat-3 will have even more capacity. You’ll start to see it in the LEO satellites too,” Miller concluded.