by James Kramer
Much has changed since the first commercial satellite was launched more than 40 years ago. In the meantime, many commercial companies have built business models around satellites and offer an ever-expanding array of satellite services. Designing a viable service and financing the procurement and launch of a satellite has never been a trivial task. Going forward, such is not likely to get easier for commercial satellite owners. However, one aspect of the business that has become significantly easier over the years is selecting the satellite ground system.
Today, due to innovative COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) satellite control software, satellite owners can rest assured knowing satellite control systems with proven capabilities are available to operate their satellites. Satellite fleet owners and operators realize by selecting proven COTS satellite control systems capable of supporting the various satellites comprising their operations, they can reduce ground system procurement and satellite operations costs. Future capital and operating expenditures are also minimized with COTS systems that can be easily extended to meet the demands of their growing fleet. In addition, they have recognized they can further offset their operations cost by offering to fly satellites for other operators. As outsourcing satellite operations grows more common in the satellite industry, having a cost-effective, industry-standard, satellite control system has become a significant consideration for satellite operators already in, or looking to break into, the third-party operations market.
Many new satellite owners decide to outsource satellite operations to other satellite operators. This may be a short-term solution while the new owner builds out their ground infrastructure and satellite operations expertise. Or, they may decide to continue this model indefinitely. In either case, an important consideration when selecting the third-party operator and the satellite control system to be used is the portability of the system. A satellite owner must have the leverage to cancel the operations service if the service does not meet expectations or is not cost competitive with others in the industry. If the satellite is operated on a highly customized system, the satellite owner can be left with no alternatives; but if the satellite is operated on a widely used COTS satellite control system, the satellite owner then has some options. They can either bring the operations in-house, or transfer the operations services to another satellite operator using the same COTS system.
Another important consideration for satellite owners when deciding what satellite control system is best for their fleet is the operational heritage of system. Even though they are not actually operating their satellites, the health and safety of their fleet is still paramount to their business. Therefore, the satellite owner is likely to emphasize their need to find a system with a proven track record for safely operating the same bus type as their satellite. Future satellite procurement plans also may play into the decision a system with proven experience on many different bus types from different satellite manufacturers is a definite plus.
Integral Systems, Inc., of Lanham, Maryland, has long understood these concepts. The company has developed their EPOCH IPS (Integrated Product Suite) and their business model based on these concepts. EPOCH IPS is the most widely used satellite control system in the world. It supports satellite bus types from every major satellite manufacturer. Every operator using the EPOCH IPS system has exactly the same software, no matter what satellite types his or her fleets include. Any satellite operated on the EPOCH IPS can be moved readily from one operator to another with no compatibility issues. This portability has made EPOCH IPS the most popular solution for satellite owners who outsource their operations.
Currently, 38 commercial GEO satellites in-orbit are owned by one company and operated by another. Of those 38 satellites, 18 are operated on the EPOCH IPS system. By comparison, no other system operates more than 5 satellites. Within the next two years, the number of satellites owned by one company but operated by another is expected to increase to 52 satellites. And 25 of these satellites will be operated with the EPOCH IPS. Clearly, Integral Systems EPOCH IPS is the established system of choice for satellite owners who outsource their operations.
Echostar Communications Corporation, the parent company of DISH Network and the owner and operator of the satellite fleet that provides the signal for DISH Network markets, has run the gamut as far as third-party satellite operations are concerned. For their early satellites, Echostar outsourced their operations to another satellite operator that used the EPOCH IPS system. As their fleet expanded, Echostar built up their internal operations capabilities with the EPOCH IPS system. Now, Echostar operates all new satellites on their state-of-the-art EPOCH IPS satellite control system, and they also offer operations services to other satellite owners.
Our EPOCH IPS has seen us through every developing stage of our flight operations outsourcing in our infancy, transitioning to in-house, and now offering flight operations services, said David Bair, the Senior Vice President of Space Systems and Operations at Echostar. EPOCH IPS has been one of the foundations of our satellite operations success. We consider Integral Systems to be one of our established business partners who has contributed significantly to our ability to operate in a dynamic environment, added Bair.
While commercial satellite owners have many challenges to face, choosing a satellite control system has become easier over the last several years. This is due to the fact COTS satellite control systems have become more common they have almost become a commodity. The issue now is to determine which of the COTS systems available today is truly considered the industry-standard COTS satellite control system, and which one is the most flexible in terms of system functionality and portability. For satellite owners outsourcing their operations and for satellite operators providing operations services, the solution is clear: Integral Systems EPOCH IPS.
James Kramer is currently the Director of Commercial Command and Control Systems at Integral Systems, Inc., of Lanham, MD, U.S.A., responsible for all commercial project implementation. Mr. Kramer has over 15 years of experience in the satellite ground systems and operations field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.