Terran Orbital to build GapSat GEO comsat

Enigmatic Terran Orbital will build a geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) communications satellite for interim satellite capacity provider GapSat.  It marks the first purchase of a satellite by GapSat and possibly Terran Orbital’s first build of a GEO satellite.

“We have been working on developing our own satellites for several years and it is terrific to have finally found a credible partner to execute on a technical solution that meets our business objectives,” said Gregg Daffner, Chief Executive Officer at GapSat. “Terran Orbital showed a unique business approach defining a highly flexible, reconfigurable satellite at a cost that closes our business case and will provide our customers with the tailored capacity they need.”

Price on the contract wasn’t announced, but various details press release suggests it is a “small” satellite that will be launched directly into a geosynchronous orbit. GapSat-1 will support C-band, Ku-band, Ka-band and Q/V bands and will have an electric propulsion system. 

GapSat says the Ka-band payload features fully steerable wideband spot beams while the use of Q/V bands pushes the envelope of higher-speed RF data solutions.  Use of Q/V is relatively new, with operators just starting to work with the spectrum.

Until now, GapSat has sold satellite capacity as a broker, finding under-utilitized assets to augment capacity at an existing location for a period of time or patching together services when a satellite fails to reach orbit or if an operational satellite has a problem.

Details on the size and mass of the satellite have not yet been released or how the satellite will be put into orbit, so “small” could be relative.  The smallest Boeing 702 satellite, the SP series, mass between 1,500 to 2,300 kilograms, depending on configuration.  Astranis MicroGEO series come in under 300 kilograms. 

GapSat-1 is likely to fall between 300 and 1,500 kilograms, given it is supporting a wide range of radio bands, with different antennas dedicated to different bands unless Terran Orbital is doing something radically different with software-defined radio and phased-array antennas.  GapSat, like Astranis, touts small GEO satellites as a new way to scale up capacity and open up new business models for established operators and new entrants.

Terran Orbital signaling it is building small GEO comsats is likely to cause more angst over at Maxar Technologies. Maxar is looking at existing the large GEO satellite manufacturing business, since worldwide demand has dropped from over 20 satellites per year four years ago to an estimated average between 8 to 12 satellites per year.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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