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Focus: Achieving Major Sat Status — Spacecom’s AMOS Fleet
by Hadass Geyfman

After successfully breaking into the playground of the commercial satellite giants, with AMOS-1, -2 and -3, the Israeli satellite industry is now moving forward with new satellites, more innovations and new target markets.

GreyfmanFig1 Israel’s first observation satellite, launched in 1988, and their first commercial communication satellite, AMOS-1, was launched in 1996. They served as the ticket to the prestigious group of countries that build satellites that included the U.S., Russia, France, India, China, Japan, and most recently, Iran.

The soon-to-be launched AMOS-5, will position the Israeli satellite operator Spacecom as a multi-regional player. It will be followed by AMOS-4, scheduled to be launched next year, and AMOS-6 which will replace AMOS-2 in 2014. Both are expected to expand the range of Spacecom’s various offerings and markets.

Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI), which planned, developed, designed, and built the first three of the AMOS satellite fleet, is now in the integration stage of AMOS-4, which will cover East Asia, the Middle East and a large part of Africa. AMOS-4 will enable Spacecom to achieve a breakthrough with unique services, innovative concepts, new features and unprecedented capabilities that, in addition to other elements, will contribute to America’s defense and security.

AMOS-6, scheduled for a launch in 2014 to its orbital spot at 4 degrees West (to replace AMOS-2), will cover Central and East Europe and the Middle East. Spacecom is readying the AMOS-6 satellite for pan-European coverage, Ka- broadband and additional capacity for the Middle East. One of the most prominent services that will be provided by AMOS-6 is broadband Internet via small Ka-band beams. Many regions around the world, including some parts of Europe, lack terrestrial broadband Internet. Satellites can provide an efficient solution to broadband Internet with Ka-band.

AMOS-6 would provide its Internet services via many small Ka-band beams, as each beam covers a city or a district. Ka-band can provide service through many small beams that are inherent, because of its high frequency, relative to Ku- and C-bands (that are being used in common commercial satellites). For a given antenna and specific level of performance, the higher the frequency, the more concentrated (smaller) the beams are. The Ka-band, therefore, allows the coverage of vast areas with many small beams and enables the re-use of frequencies between non-adjacent beams. This substantially reduces the cost of data throughput per transponder and also lessens broadband service through satellites.

In essence, small beams enable the Internet provider to allocate its bandwidth more efficiently and provide high bandwidth Internet to all users in different areas without overloading the network. In fact, 10 to 20 small beams, or even several dozen small beams, are expected to become the future of broadband Internet by satellite.

Another advantage of Ka-band for Internet services is its high bandwidth. It is a low cost/free frequency that is also susceptible to weather conditions, — transmission disruption can occur even with the lightest of rain. While TV broadcast is highly sensitive to any disruption (and not ideal to be transmitted over Ka-band), the Internet is more tenable.

GreyfmanFig2 The Ka-’s third advantage (for Internet transmission) is that it requires very small antennas at the customers’ homes. Transmission via the Ka-band can be received by antennas with diameters of 8 to 12 inches.

While AMOS-6 is scheduled for a launch in 2014, AMOS-5 is scheduled to be launched in the coming months to its orbital spot at 17 degrees East. This launch, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, will be conducted by the Russian company ISS Reshetnev, which also built the satellite.

AMOS-5 will be launched directly into geostationary orbit (GEO), using the same method that launched AMOS-3 in 2008. This Russian method of direct launch is significantly different than launching satellites into the GTO (GEO Transfer Orbit), after which the satellites are transferred to GEO orbit. The direct launch to GEO orbit allows the satellite to be smaller and more economical to build and operate. Plus, it significantly extends the satellite’s lifespan. In addition, solving malfunctions relating to its initial orbit position can be accomplished, if needed, more efficiently.

Satellites launched directly to the GEO don’t need to be equipped with a propulsion system to push them to the final orbit. With fewer and smaller fuel tanks than satellites launched to the GTO, the direct launched satellites can add more room for transponders, antennas, and for larger solar panels. This means more bandwidth, covered areas, and energy for the beams. Moreover, the launch to GTO requires more ground support equipment, more tests and trials, and more procedures than satellites launched directly to GEO.

“AMOS-5’s fixed pan-African C-band beam and three steerable Ku-band beams will cover Africa with connectivity to Europe and the Middle East,” said Gil Ilany, Spacecom’s VP of Marketing. “AMOS-5’s 14x72 MHz and 4x36 MHz C-band transponders, coupled with 18x72 MHz Ku-transponders, will position Spacecom as a source of capacity for a variety of African and African-related businesses, including telcos, cellular operators, broadcasters and others. AMOS-5 is debuting into these markets at an opportune time, as operators from around the world are expanding into the region.”

The African market is extremely rural in many areas, making satellite technology the optimal, most reliable, and least expensive method, to reach clients in far-flung villages and towns. In fact, revenues from transponder leasing in Africa and Asia are currently stronger than ever. This industry’s most important drivers — VSAT, DTH television, broadband Internet and intercontinental video transmissions — enjoys strong growth and service demands. Communication operators, TV and Internet providers, and enterprises using VSAT, in these regions, are depending on satellites as a vital service to their success.

AMOS-5’s position (at 17 degrees East) enables its beams to reach everywhere in Africa, including islands such as Mauritius and Madagascar. The steerable antennas enable the beams to reach the Middle East as well as all European regions. The Pan-African C-band antenna will cover the entire continent, from north to south and west to east. The same C-band beam, also covers southern Europe as well as the Middle East through the Persian Gulf region.

greyfmanFig3 The three steerable beams can each reach a specific population or provide language needs. Antenna Ku-1 provides the French language beam, reaching from Senegal and Guinea on the West Coast, to Nigeria and Cameroon to Mozambique and Madagascar on the East Coast. In Europe the beam reaches France as well as Lebanon in the Middle East.

The Ku-2 antenna (the Southern beam) covers South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe in the south, to Zaire and the Congo in the center of Africa; plus western and southern Europe, as well as other parts of the Mediterranean Basin.

The last steerable antenna, Ku-3, covers a wide swath at the center of the continent reaching Nigeria and Cameroon in the west to South Sudan, Chad and Uganda in the center, to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Eritrea in the east.

AMOS-5’s beams also connect Europe to Africa. The C-band beam reaches from Turkey in the west to southern Spain and France in the East. In the north, the beam hits all of the United Kingdom as well as Denmark, Germany and Poland.

The fact that AMOS-5 will provide coverage between Africa and most of continental Europe means that Earth stations (teleports) from the U.K., Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Greece and other countries, can send and receive signals to, and from, the satellite, which then sends them directly to Africa. From the Middle East, stations as far as Iraq and Saudia Arabia, as well as those closer to the Mediterranean Sea, are able to work with the satellite. Technically, the C-band is a better option for providers in these countries, as C-band is not affected by adverse weather conditions.

However, communication providers in Europe, looking to reach specific areas in Africa, can use the Ku-bands’ beams. French speaking Africa can use Ku-1 from France, Austria, Germany, Italy and even Norway, for telecom, broadcast or data transmissions. The Ku-2 beam enables collaborations between European and southern African projects. The Ku-3 beam reaches the Middle East and parts of Europe, particularly France, Germany and Italy, and in Africa its focus is Central and Western Africa.

“AMOS-5 will provide telecom and cellular backhaul, VSAT, broadcast, broadband and data communications,” said Ilany. “The African market is growing and service expansion is an important part of this, as well as the introduction of new services over time. Africa includes rural areas, urban, cities and villages, and each has different needs. We have already pre-sold capacity on the satellite to a number of communication providers and teleports that will anchor our operations over the continent.”

GreyfmanFig4 Both AMOS-5 and AMOS-4 use shaped (designed) beams (instead of the usual round-shaped beam). These beams are designed in a way that enables each beam to cover only the areas where the service is provided, — they do not waste energy on areas where Spacecom is not providing service. This method saves resources and enables maximum use of the beam and its energy.

To achieve this designed beam, the antenna’s reflector is being curved in some places to create concaves and arches that create a beam that reaches only the targeted areas.

Scheduled to be launched in 2012 to its orbital spot at 65 degrees East (over the Indian ocean region), AMOS-4 will further expand Spacecom’s coverage. It will cover several regions; from central Africa to the Philippines and India (without Japan). This includes South East Asia, the entire Middle East from Israel in the west to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east, and East and South Africa.

“AMOS-4 is one of the most advanced satellites of its kind in the world,” says Giora Eyran, project manager of the AMOS-4 satellite in the Space Division of Israel Aerospace Industry’s Systems Missiles and Space Group. “It has 10 antennas, which, in terms of commercial satellites, is unprecedented. All of the antennas are steerable automatically. One of them is a multi-beam antenna (MBA), and two of the others are dual band, wideband antennas, which can transmit and receive communication at two frequencies.

“AMOS-4 is highly cost-effective for the optimal platform, which allows more width for the payload or, alternatively, more fuel, either of which improves the return on the investment. The satellite also has redundancy subsystems to ensure high quality and continual service for its lifespan. We have integrated into the AMOS-4 a unique, systematic, solution that meets the challenge of continuity and stability of beam coverage during orbit, the MBA antenna, which includes innovative elements in both the ground station and the satellite itself. The payload allows for immediate, effective, management of wideband antennas via the ground control station and according to customers’ varying needs. The greater flexibility that comes with operating the satellite’s payload provides the customer with important marketing advantages.”

AMOS-4’s Middle East coverage is among others designated for the U.S. Government. All communications between the Pentagon and the troops in the Middle East is transmitted through the U.S. Army’s missions’ center in central Europe. Due to lack of fiber between Europe and the Middle East, the U.S. Army is leasing capacity in commercial communication satellites.

AMOS-4 will provide additional coverage of central Europe and will be able to connect the missions’ center with every spot in the Middle East. Furthermore, as the U.S. Army is currently the primary operator of the Ka- band (and sometimes uses the Ku-band for backup), AMOS-4’s Ka-beams and Ku-beams will accommodate their needs. In essence, AMOS-4’s Ka-band, in conjunction with its coverage of the entire Middle East, and the additional coverage of central Europe, are important advantages for the needs of the U.S. Army.

In example this combination of features, the Pentagon will be able to transmit orders (via the satellite) to an UAV (an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), to take off and film a specific area over Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and other locales, with the footage then transmitted to the Pentagon as a live broadcast, as well as to the commanders on the ground. Every squad can be equipped with a small satellite-terminal.

greyfmanFig5 In addition to AMOS-4’s advanced technology, it includes some conceptual innovations. One of them is a feature that will enable governments, enterprises, telcos, cellular providers and others, to lease capacity and independently operate and manage the system, as if they were the owners of the satellites. For each such customer, Spacecom would allocate capacity in the satellite and would set up a control center at the customer’s site. This would allow countries that don’t have their own satellite, as well as large enterprises and communication operators, to enjoy the benefits of their own satellite, while saving the costs of developments and maintenance.

“The systemization of the ground segment, allows an automatic command and control of the satellite, as well as the operation of an architecturally multi-layered payload, which, in turn, allows the allocation of resources and automatic control for every customer that the payload covers,” Eyran explained. “Each customer can independently plan its missions, and privately control its resources from its own control station. Every antenna is steerable to the relevant service area, as determined by the customer, which lets it tilt accordingly, providing the maximum coverage and operations.

“In addition to managing resources from the ground control station,” said Eyran, “the customer can monitor the services, solving any potential problems more rapidly than ever before, and ensuring continuous high-quality service.”

The growing need for on-demand content on various devices, the 3D technology that is already around the corner, and the outspread demands for broadband Internet via satellite, as well as the increasing communication needs of enterprises, communication operators, and governments, are positioning satellites as an attractive solution, particularly in emerging markets. Furthermore, due to costs and issues of technical service to fiber, satellites provide an efficient solution for reaching rural areas and the large swaths of non-urban areas in Africa and Asia.

The AMOS satellite fleet is positioned to provide coverage over many of the world’s fastest growing and highest-demand satellite markets.

About the author
Hadass Geyfman has been a journalist for 18 years, covering technology and technology innovations, business/finance/capital market, telecom and other topics - features, news and news analyses. She currently freelances, writing articles on a range of subjects for trade and consumer magazines, as well as writing corporate white papers and marketing articles. Prior to that she was the Middle East editor at the U.S. technology magazine “VON magazine”, following on from a position as senior finance and technology reporter for the financial newspaper “Globes”. Before that she was Editor In Chief of “Electronica” magazine, covering future technologies in all fields of electronics. Contact her at hadass.geyfman@gmail.com