Flexible payloads come of age

ESA's Xavier Lobao, Head of TIA's Future Products division, giving the opening address.

On 21-24 March 2016, the Third ESA Workshop on Flexible Telecom Payloads took place at ESTEC, ESA's technical facility located in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The three-day event was co-hosted by ESA’s Technical and Quality Management Directorate (D/TEC) and Telecommunications and Integrated Applications (D/TIA) Directorate. The workshop was well-attended, with more than 200 participants, primarily representatives of the European space industries.

Earlier editions of the workshop took place in 2008 and 2012, when promising flexible payload technology had yet to find widespread market acceptance. By now however it is a proven concept, with Hylas-1 (launched in 2010) demonstrating its viability in space. Quantum, a Public Private Partnership between ESA and Eutelsat to develop a satellite, for which the payload will be fully reconfigurable, should further consolidate the evolution towards flexible payloads in the industry.

Accordingly, the workshop began with two panels anchored very much in the domain of practical deployment, the first dedicated to satellite operators and second to industrial partners. The operators in particular made very clear the commercial imperatives driving the adoption of flexible payloads.

Four main themes dominated this year’s workshop. The first was flexible coverage, either by active or mechanically controlled antennas. The second was flexible bandwidth and power allocation. The third important trend signalled was additional processing for routing and switching and narrow filtering. Fourth, beam-hopping is another key technique for flexible allocation of capacity.

“We are seeing real interest in flexible payload technology from operators,” said ESA’s Valerie Dutto, one of the event’s organisers. “For them, it is no longer an abstract idea, but a concrete means to improve their competitive position.”

"The success of the Workshop clearly proves that the satcom community is fully aligned in considering flexibility a key element for improving competitiveness in a rapidly-evolving market landscape, not only for mobile satellite services, but also for historically more conservative fixed and broadcast satellite services," added ESA's Daniele Petrolati, another of the event’s organisers.

Given the fast-moving pace of developments in the field, the attendees agreed that the next ESA Flexible Payloads workshop should take place in two year’s time, not four.

Photo: ESA/C. Brace

Published 29 April 2016
Last updated at 02 May 2016 - 06:39