Nasa takes off with SES for near-Earth satellite broadband

US space agency selects Luxembourg-based satellite operator to develop near-Earth communication services and investigate potential to partner on future projects involving proven non-geostationary orbit systems

Just days after announcing that its non-geostationary medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellite network will be part of the GovSatCom-grade satellite communications platform, SES has been awarded a Funded Space Act Agreement from Nasa’s Communications Services Project (CSP).

The contract will see SES GS, the satellite operator’s government solutions subsidiary, in partnership with Planet Labs PBC (Planet) support the development and demonstration of near-Earth communication services in support of the US space agency’s future mission needs.

SES GS will partner with Planet to develop a real-time, always-on, low-latency connectivity system enabled by SES’s geostationary (GEO) and MEO constellations, including O3b mPOWER, to further Nasa missions. Planet brings over a decade of experience in designing and manufacturing cutting-edge, low-cost Earth observation satellites and radio communication systems.

SES GS has been awarded nearly $29m through Nasa’s Funded Space Act Agreement to demonstrate commercial radio frequency GEO C-band and MEO Ka-band relay networks for satcom services to spacecraft in low Earth orbit. These services include routine missions, contingency operations, launch and ascent, and early operations phase communications.

The system proposed by SES GS will aim to deliver what the operator says will be robust, reliable and cost-effective mission-oriented operations, enabling high-rate and high-capacity two-way communications. Under the agreement, the company will complete technology development and in-space demonstrations by 2025, with Nasa intending to seek multiple long-term contracts to acquire services for near-Earth operations by 2030.

The adoption of satcom service is also designed to support Nasa in phasing out its proprietary systems, as well as other Nasa-operated systems.

“We are excited to showcase our second-generation satellite constellation – O3b mPOWER – which will enable high data rates, coupled with low-latency data relay communications to and from near-Earth orbit Nasa assets,” said Pete Hoene, president and CEO of SES Government Solutions. “Combining the multi-orbit capabilities of SES, the global leader in delivering content and connectivity solutions via satellite, with that of Planet Labs, one of the world’s leading commercial imaging companies, will create the world’s first high-throughput commercial space relay service, enabling timely and data-driven decisions.”

The Nasa deal is the latest O3b deployment. The GovSatCom Satellite project is based on the O3b high-throughput, low-latency and secure communications platform that it has developed with co-funding by the European Space Agency. The MEO satellite network is designed to support high-workload missions that require the transmission of a lot of data in a secure manner, such as remotely piloted aircraft systems, high-performance networks, cloud services, and artificial intelligence and machine learning applications.

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