WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Once a satellite is launched it normally does one thing and one thing alone and can never be altered or reprogrammed – now they can.
So far we’ve seen satellites that can dodge incoming missiles, that are 3D printed and keep orbiting the Earth without any fuel, and that can watch the whole Earth in real-time and give governments the equivalent of TiVo for Earth. And now the final component of the revolutionary British-built “Chameleon” satellite is shipping out for final assembly. After a public showing recently the chassis for the one-tonne Eutelsat Quantum communication satellite is set to be moved from the Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) facility in the UK for final assembly by Airbus in France where it will become the first satellite that can be completely reprogrammed in orbit.
Ever since Telstar 1 was launched in 1962 communication satellites have been altering our world in ways that our grandparents couldn’t imagine. Distances have been short circuited, calling someone on the other side of the world is as simple as a local call, and events from the other side of the planet are beamed into our lounge rooms in near real time.
An early introductory video of the new technology
However, the satellites that make much of this possible tend to be stuck in the design philosophies of the 1960s. As sophisticated as such orbital birds have become, they are still pretty much a collection of one-offs with even seemingly identical members of the same constellation needing to be hardwired to carry out their missions. If communications coverage is needed in a new area or using a different frequency set, that means sending up another expensive satellite.
According to the UK Space Agency, which, along with ESA is a development partner, “Eutelsat Quantum is a new approach.” Instead of a specialised platform the Quantum is software driven and is designed to be reprogrammed and reconfigured even after it’s been placed in its geostationary orbit 22,236 mi (35,786 km) above the Earth.
This means that the chameleon satellite can adjust its coverage, frequency, power, and orbital position as needed. It can even split a coverage area into smaller ones, generate dynamic and varied frequencies, and even cover the entire visible area of the Earth rather than a small, pre-set region.
“Eutelsat Quantum is a world first and reflects the culmination of many years of research and evaluation driven by Eutelsat, and supported by major partners such as the ESA, the UK Space Agency, and Airbus,” says Yohann Leroy, Eutelsat Deputy CEO and Chief Technical Officer. “It will bring unprecedented agility and flexibility to our customers in the government, mobility and data markets: innovation will not only come from the ability to adjust coverages in real time in order to allocate resources between beams and regions but also from the fact that customers will be able to take command and optimize capacity use autonomously.”
The video above highlights the features of the Eutelsat Quantum.