Intelsat Orders First ESA HummingSat

8th Nov 2022
Intelsat Orders First ESA HummingSat

Intelsat is the first to order ESA’s tiny geostationary HummingSat, ESA announced on 8th November. The small satellite will be developed by ESA and SWISSto12, a Switzerland-based additive manufacturing company, and is slated to fill gaps in Intelsat’s coverage for its media and network customers.

The order comes months after the partnership between SWISSto12 and ESA was signed in March to grow telecommunications coverage for private space firms in Europe. ESA says the satellite should launch in 2025. It marks the Swiss company’s “first anchor” customer for developing its product line.

Intelsat’s order

ESA named the satellite after the hummingbird, which is “tiny, agile, fast-moving and yet apparently stationary”, according to ESA. As with the bird, HummingSat’s are small. In fact, they are one-tenth the size of a conventional one, measuring one cubic metre. Intelsat labelled HummingSat as Intelsat 45 (IS-45). The satellite’s intended home is geostationary orbit at about 36,000 kilometers above Earth.  

According to Intelsat, IS-45 will provide Ku-band fixed satellite services to meet the company’s business needs. Intelsat’s Jean-Luc Froeliger, SVP of Space Systems said: “The small size addresses a gap in our fleet strategy, enabling us to be increasingly more targeted to meet specific customer requirements. In addition, the additive-manufacturing process used for this spacecraft is paving the way for faster satellite build cycles in the future. We are confident in the HummingSat technology and want to support the success of new players in the field of commercial communication satellites.”

HummingSat to address gaps in coverage

According to ESA, the size of the satellite poses many advantages for customers. It is small and lightweight, which makes it more affordable to build and launch into space. ESA says this enables satellite operators to provide services in regional areas not usually targeted by large satellites. “Micro-geostationary satellites can also offer a competitive replacement option for some legacy geostationary satellites that have reached the end of their lifetime,” the agency says.

However, the micro-geostationary satellite will not replace larger ones, but to complement them. Each HummingSat will launch on a rideshare mission with a bigger spacecraft to GEO orbit. With its unique additive manufactured radio-frequency equipment, it will complement legacy satellites and boost its capacity. In this way, it will essentially act as an extension of higher-performing satellites.

Big win for SWISSto12

The order represents a big achievement for SWISSto12. After all, its first customer of the satellite is a giant in global communications. CEO and founder Emile de Rijk said, “The award of the IS-45 programme by Intelsat is a landmark moment for SWISSto12. We are humbled to embark on this journey with Intelsat, who are the foundational architects of satellite communications. It is unprecedented for a specialist high-growth scale-up to secure a contract of this depth with a leading telecommunications operator. It provides a solid start to our HummingSat product line to open a new chapter in the satellite communications industry.

The landmark achievement comes months after the satellite passed its system requirements review in July. The collaboration is named the HummingSat Partnership Project. The project is supposed to showcase “innovation and disruptive technologies” introduced when ESA partners with local space industries. Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA said the agency is “proud” to support space firms through this satellite. “ESA creates jobs and prosperity in Europe by fostering innovation to help space companies succeed in the highly competitive global market for telecommunications satellites,” said.

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