New Quantum Satellite Bus Will Be the Focus of New Technology Development

by Bill Ostrove, Space Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

Quantum new-generation satellite (Credit: Airbus)
Quantum new-generation satellite (Credit: Airbus)

A partnership between ESA, Eutelsat, and Airbus Defence and Space has introduced a commercial communications services satellite platform that utilizes new technology. The Quantum satellite’s software-based design will give operators the ability to change a satellite’s operational parameters in orbit, enabling users to serve any region of the world and adjust to new business without needing to procure and launch an entirely new satellite. The satellite will feature phased-array antennas, flexible connectivity, and software-configurable payloads that can adapt to new demands in coverage, bandwidth, and frequency configurability.

The new technology could be important within the satellite industry, since it provides the capability for unprecedented in-orbit re-configurability. This increased operational flexibility will be the main selling point, although costs will likely be higher, meaning a place in the market will remain for traditional technologies.

The satellite is being developed under the

, which is a public-private partnership (PPP) between ESA, satellite operator Eutelsat, and manufacturer Airbus Defence and Space (UK). The partnership ensures the three parties share risks and funds.

The first Quantum satellite will be delivered in 2018 and operated by Eutelsat to serve government, mobility and data markets. Airbus Defence and Space will be the prime contractor, using a new platform from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. Both developments are supported by the U.K. Space Agency.

Quantum builds on the payload technology developed by Airbus Defence and Space in the U.K. under the ESA Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems program (ARTES 33.3) and supported by the U.K. Space Agency.

ESA seeks to maintain European space competitiveness through a series of public-private partnerships. These programs typically investigate leading-edge technologies. For example, the Alphabus program was a joint EADS-Thales Alenia Space effort to develop an extremely large bus. Another program, NeoSat, seeks to develop smaller spacecraft.

Often, these programs have very ambitious goals. For example, the Alphabus program sought to develop a new line of spacecraft that would compete head-on with Boeing 702HP, Lockheed Martin A2100, and Space Systems/Loral 1300 spacecraft. However, other than the satellite built for launch customer Inmarsat, no Alphabus contracts materialized. Instead of being a source of new products, these programs are more often utilized by contractors as a source of funding to cover the costs of developing new technologies, which are then integrated into the companies’ current line of satellites.

While it is possible that Quantum-based satellites will continue to be sold, it is more likely that Airbus will integrate technologies developed under the Quantum program into its current Eurostar family of satellites.

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