The most powerful commercial broadband satellite ever built has just gone into orbit on an Ariane rocket. ViaSat-2, which is to be stationed above the Americas, has a total throughput capacity of about 300 gigabits per second. The spacecraft was part of a dual payload on the Ariane flight. It was joined by Eutelsat 172B, a UK/French-built platform to go over the Pacific.
Both satellites will be chasing the rampant market for wi-fi on aeroplanes. Airlines are currently in a headlong rush to equip their fleets with connections that will allow passengers to use their mobile devices in mid-air. More than 6,000 commercial aircraft worldwide were offering an onboard wi-fi service in 2016; it is expected more than 17,000 will be doing so by 2021.
The Ariane left the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 20:45 local time, Thursday (23:45 GMT), ejecting the satellites into their transfer orbits about half an hour later. Both must now get themselves into their final positions. Noteworthy is the fact that ViaSat-2 and 172B will be using electric engines to do this. These work by accelerating and expelling ions at high speed. The process provides less thrust than a standard chemical engine, but saves substantially on propellant mass.
Euroconsult is one of the world’s leading analyst groups following the satellite industry. Its research confirms the rapid growth now taking place, and says this will only accelerate. Euroconsult’s recent report on in-flight-connectivity (IFC) predicted nearly half of all commercial planes would be enabled by 2021, pushing revenues for the suppliers of onboard services from $1bn to $6.5bn inside 10 years. But Euroconsult’s CEO, Pacôme Revillon, said there will be winners and losers in this IFC race and this would likely be decided in the very near future.