In a remarkable announcement, the satellite operator SES, European Space Agency ESA and German avionics research institute DLR have claimed there is such a thing as spent Ku-band satellites sitting idle in orbit, without any use or purpose. So why not use them to offer mobile radio services to cars for ‘many more years’?
The idea is to podcast audio, such as individual songs, interviews and news, as well as clips, charts, maps and traffic information, to the receiver’s memory and mix it with local media sources such as CDs. When there is a line of sight connection to the satellite the receiver will be fed with non-real-time data.
Satellites are currently withdrawn from service following the depletion of the fuel reserve required to keep them in orbit. When the fuel supply falls below a certain level, they are placed in a reduced-station-keeping mode, firing rockets less often to get them back in their designed slot. This way they may be used for several more years, and when the fuel is about to run out a final series of boosts pushes them out of orbit.
Uses of such inclined orbit satellites vary from broadcasting to smaller audiences, redistribution sites, newsgathering and a variety of telecommunications and data services, for which the increased wobbling in space is of less consequence than DTH services.
Very old low power C-band satellites are placed over oceans in case one of the cables lying on the seabed snaps. This in fact happened last month, upsetting Internet and telecommunications across Asia.
It looks like SES is trying to find a more profitable or strategic use for its ageing satellites.
On October 30 last year Eutelsat and SES agreed to form a 50/50 joint venture to commercialise the S-band on Eutelsat W2A. The project will provide mobile services to cars, PDAs and other hand-held devices. The S-band space segment represents an investment of approximately €130 million, and the Astrium built satellite is scheduled for an early 2009 launch on board a Sea launch rocket.
ESA has ordered a consortium to develop and build a demonstrator, which has been succesfully tested on various test drives across north-west Europe. The consortium led by SES GLOBAL is made up of SES ASTRA, BMW, Dornier-Consulting, Deutschen Welle, Institut für Rundfunktechnik (IRT), TriaGnoSys, the University of Braunschweig and Frauenhofer Institut für Integrierte Schaltung.
The results of the trial will be presented at ESA’s coastal research centre in Noordwijk, Holland later today (January 25).