After months of delays, satellite operator Telesat announced today it had selected a prime satellite manufacturer for its global LEO constellation as well as a new name for it, Lightspeed. The initial constellation will be made up of 298 satellites built by Thales Alenia Space, each weighing in at 700 kilograms and produced at a rate of one per day.
Telesat and Thales Alena Space have spent many months of “substantial and sustained collaboration” on the Lightspeed constellation. The first satellites are expected to be launched in two years onboard a Blue Origin rocket, with customer beta testing expected to begin shortly thereafter and commercial services to Canada starting by the end of 2023, with global commercial coverage coming by the end of 2024.
“We are very pleased to be moving forward with Thales Alenia Space on Lightspeed, the most advanced and capable LEO network in the world,” stated 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 revolutionize satellite-delivered broadband and give Telesat and its customers a decisive competitive edge in this high growth market.”
Telesat’s saga to select a prime contractor dates to 2018, the initial expected date for selection. The company then lined up Thales Alena Space and Maxar as one team and Airbus as a second bidder, with a selection date of mid-2019 that slipped into early 2020 and the end of 2020 before the February 9, 2021 announcement.
Each Telesat Lightspeed satellite will operate around 1,000 kilometers above the earth and includes phase array antennas to deliver multiple Gbps of capacity to demand hot spots “like remote communications, large airports or major seaports,” according to the company’s press release, along with four high-speed optical (laser) links per satellite for on-network traffic to reduce latency.
Telesat is working to develop affordable end-user terminals optimized for the different vertical markets the company is pursuing and starting to talk with data centers and interconnect brokers for connections into these interconnection points.
Unlike SpaceX’s 1,400 to 12,000 satellite Starlink constellation with an initial emphasis on consumer sales, Telesat Lightspeed will have few satellites and focus on delivering services to enterprise customers at gigabit to multi-gigabit speeds. SpaceX’s first generation of ground equipment and satellites is delivering typical speeds of around 100 Mbps while OneWeb’s enterprise/reseller LEO broadband service will deliver up to 200 Mbps in its initial offering.