Julian Moxon/PARIS

European satellite manufacturers are backing away from the early development of "second generation" geostationary broadband satellites capable of interactive internet services, citing "major technology challenges" which need to be solved first.

Alcatel Space is one of several European manufacturers preparing to respond to requests for proposals for "first generation" Ka-band broadband satellites, which are unlikely to provide interactive internet services as advanced as some terrestrial systems. "There are many internet applications where this [capability gap] is not an issue," says Alcatel Space.

Two requests for proposals from unnamed organisations are due to be issued in December/January for launches of broadband satellites in 2003/4. These will provide communications at a far higher rate than current Ku-band craft, but still use the "bent pipe" principle in which they behave primarily as transmission devices rather than having significant onboard processing capability to enable message routing between individuals.

Such satellites will require extremely high-power onboard computers, early versions of which were developed by US companies involved in the Milstar military satellite communications programme. But security and technology transfer issues are likely to stymie any attempts by European companies to form joint ventures with US counterparts to use this technology.

Efforts to boost European competence in satellite-based communications services centre on the European Space Agency's Artes 3 programme, which is being managed in three parts: developing satellite communication (satcom) multimedia markets; developing satcom system elements; and pioneering novel systems such as interactive internet satellites.

Some industry sources are sceptical about the long-term need for interactive satellites, however. "We believe operators will want to see how first generation satellites fit into the multimedia picture before committing to second generation development," says one source. "I believe satellites will turn out to be highly complementary to land-based internet systems, especially regions where land-based internet does not exist or is underdeveloped, such as Africa and Russia."

Alcatel Space is working on a possible "intermediate" solution based around a satellite capable of limited onboard processing. It says it is talking to its ground-based telecommunications division about mixed solutions providing the best of both technologies.

Source: Flight International