Viasat pushes ahead with global satellite broadband plan

Viasat's plan to cover the world with satellite-delivered broadband took another step this week with word that the first of three ViaSat-3 birds has wrapped up payload integration and performance testing, and shipment to the Boeing Satellite Systems facility in El Segundo, California.

Artist rendering of a ViaSat-3 satellite. Viasat's set of high-capacity ViaSat-3 satellites  provide global coverage.  
(Image source: Viasat)
Artist rendering of a ViaSat-3 satellite. Viasat's set of high-capacity ViaSat-3 satellites provide global coverage.
(Image source: Viasat)

With that milestone reached, the first ViaSat-3 satellite, a geostationary bird that will serve the Americas and their surrounding ocean regions, is targeted for launch in "early" 2022, the company said.

Viasat plans to launch and operate two more ViaSat-3 satellites that will serve Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and the Asia Pacific (APAC) regions. The ViaSat-3 EMEA payload is expected to be delivered to Boeing in the latter part of the company's fiscal 2022.

That will help Viasat push ahead with plans for a new set of satellites that have been slowed by the pandemic.

"I can't predict that there won't be any other COVID impacts," Rick Baldridge, Viasat's president and CEO, said on the company's recent fiscal Q4 2021 earnings call regarding the ViaSat-3 program, noting that the second payload (for the EMEA) region is running about six months behind the first payload for the Americas. "It has definitely hit us pretty hard this last year on that payload."

Together, the trio of ViaSat-3 satellites is expected to deliver more than 3 Tbit/s of capacity over an anticipated lifespan of at least 15 years. The ViaSat-3 constellation is expected to support about eight times more capacity than Viasat's current satellite broadband fleet combined, the company said.

That will also be coming together amid a race to deliver satellite broadband services on a global scale. SpaceX's Starlink service, still in beta, is progressing with a plan to launch and operate thousands of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Last month, Viasat asked the FCC to stay an April 27 order granting SpaceX's application to modify its LEO system until a court reviews Viasat's request for an environmental review of Starlink's expanding constellation of broadband satellites.

"The Commission has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing even to assess the environmental impact of both deploying thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) and then having those satellites ultimately disintegrate into the atmosphere," Viasat argued in its filing. "Because the Order will allow SpaceX to cause immediate and irreparable harm to Viasat and the public at large, the Commission should stay the Order until judicial review is complete."

FCC has also asked the FCC to review decisions tied to the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Viasat argues that decisions made by the Commission's Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, Office of Economics and Analytics and Wireline Competition Bureau "improperly discriminate against Viasat and treat it in a fundamentally different fashion than" SpaceX, according to Space News.

SpaceX was a big winner in phase one of the RDOF auction, securing about $885 million to cover more than 642,000 locations across 35 states.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

A version of this story first appeared on Broadband World News.

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