The Boeing-SES satellite, a Ferrari facing the “2CV” Starlink

“Welcome to El Segundo, a crime watch community,” warns a white sign between two palm trees and advertisements for recruiting police and firefighters. A vagrant pushes a cart full of his life, a toothless, benevolent smile at the corner of his lips. A man is sleeping, both parked on the sidewalk and the car in front of him. At a time when Los Angeles struggles to house growing numbers of the homeless and curb rampant violence, this neighborhood feels as clean as Switzerland, only magnified by squeaky, gleaming pickup trucks and Teslas, like so many “stars and stripes” floating around. wind of American success.

Between “LAX”, the super busy airport of Los Angeles, and the sexy Manhattan Beach where the mansions compete in modernity with the gastronomy of the restaurants, El Segundo remains what it always was: an industrial district all in sobriety, this a special place where famous aviator-businessman Howard Hughes profitably replaced The Nash Automobile Company in 1955… before his land was acquired by Boeing in 2000 to finally establish its subsidiary Boeing Satellite Systems (BSS).

Almost all the heavyweights of space and aeronautics live there, a kind of open-air ecosystem of the future – as it were.

It is here that Boeing and SES have been developing the new generation of O3bmPower satellites since 2016, the first two of which will be launched from Cape Canaveral around December 15th. Two “partners in crime”, as they laughingly call themselves – the president of Boeing Commercial Satellite System Ryan Reid and the technological director of SES Ruy Pinto – lead a handful of American and European journalists to discover their technology gem. Obviously, you have to show your credentials, give up cameras, recorders and smartphones.

An essential satellite faced with revenues on the brink of doubling

The stakes are high. Satellite industry revenues are expected to double from less than $10 billion this year to nearly $25 billion in 2030, in a lineup of planets: satellite integration into terrestrial connection offerings and 3G/4G/ 5G; the ambition to connect those who are not connected; the demand for air and sea connectivity from the more than 200,000 “engines” who want broadband; the growing demand from government agencies (who will want up to 140 Mb/s for their drones by 2030) and the efforts of “LEO stars” like Starlink to go directly to specific users.

The second generation of O3bmPower provides full configurability. You can change the number of receivers and create a new dynamic at any time. At this level and being so compact, it’s unprecedented.

ruy pinto🇧🇷 SES CTO

With its 5,000 beams that can be completely reconfigured in a second, the software-controlled satellite can act on all fronts: reach customers interested in extreme flexibility, such as airplanes, jets or tankers (4 billion expected in 2030); those interested in flexibility and ultra-broadband such as drones, cruise or military ships or superyachts (8 billion); those who need ultra-broadband such as oil and gas platforms, fixed government sites or mining sites (2 billion) and those who need less flexibility or bandwidth such as mainstream consumers, fishermen or more traditional businesses and agencies ( 11 billion).

“Why are we so excited about O3Bmpower?” he also pretends to find Ruy Pinto strange. “People talk about low orbit satellites, Starlink, OneWeb, Kuiper, Lightspeed – the list goes on – but we have something special in this context: the second generation O3bmPower offers full configurability. Only one of these satellites has 5,000 beams. You can change the number of receivers and create a new dynamic at any time. At this level and being so compact, it’s unprecedented. The way Boeing has integrated everything is incredible. It surpasses everything that exists today!”

The perfect solution for airlines

The interest is being able, for example, to track a plane in the sky, to provide connectivity to those traveling. If that exists, the experience becomes very random depending on the airlines and the solutions they choose. “Different companies are adopting different solutions with different approaches and wondering how to monetize the experience. But flexibility will be particularly important,” says Ryan Reid. For now, “airlines are very protective of their relationships with their customers. Everyone will dictate how they want to bring connectivity to their customers. And we will have little influence”, adds Ruy Pinto.

To satisfy SES’s appetite, Boeing had to start all over again and challenge all of its previous seven generations of satellites (from Gen 1 in 1995 to Gen 7 in 2016). The result of “702x” – codenamed for its new platform – is spectacular:

– weight, an additional cost factor for the launch, has halved to 1,900 kilograms from 3,750 previously.

– the number of components increased from 4,500 to 350;

– cables from 1275 to 65;

– and the 85 amplifiers became useless.

The cloud, another key element of the strategy

Not to mention the best resistance to radiation, electric propulsion, its format that allows the launch of several at the same time, its system for activating solar panels and the autonomy of its operation.

Boeing has already started marketing its new platform. What bothers the SES? No, guarantees the technological director of the Luxembourg operator. “Would we be willing to pay Boeing more for proprietary technology to slow down competition? Or rather, to have it faster and for less? Be the first to deploy it on the market? There are pros and cons. We believe in speed. Like the US government that bought it, we are designing and preparing the next generation. That’s how we think. We just have to be faster. Faster, but not forgiving. We really have to go there.”

Among the elements that make SES very optimistic: its links with cloud operators, to facilitate the flow of data, regardless of where it is “consumed”. “We have a multicloud strategy. We have a distribution agreement with AWS, for example, but we work with IBM Cloud. We started talking to Google Cloud. We think we provide a better service with Microsoft, and if our customer is already using it, it’s easier for them. Nor can we forget that Microsoft will also visit its customers sometimes, telling them that it has a connectivity partner, SES. AWS is stronger in video than Microsoft and our AWS customer will also have good service, but not with the same depth as with Microsoft”, explains the CTO of SES.

A new first with Space X

The visit to the mythical factory, with around 93,000 square meters, begins with the “Hall of Fame” where all the flags of anyone who has been a Boeing customer or partner, including Luxembourg and SES, since the beginning of the partnership, range from back to the Astra 1C, launched in May 1993 for 12 years and which will provide 18 years of good and fair service. Area for integrating the “beast”, area for deploying the wings-solar panels, thermal vacuum area, integration into its emitting module and acoustic testing area.

On December 6, the first two satellites arrived at Cape Canaveral, where a Space X Falcon 9 awaits them. They will be launched around December 15, before another four in March 2023 to market this exclusive service. A first for SES, which was notably the first to entrust a satellite to Elon Musk’s first rocket in 2013 for a satellite in geostationary orbit, then the first to entrust a satellite (SES10) to a “recycled” rocket. April 2016.

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