Following a two-day postponement, SpaceX conducted the launch of Hughes Network Systems’ Jupiter 3 on Friday night. This satellite aims to revolutionize space-based internet access with a contemporary approach. Using a Falcon Heavy rocket, the satellite was propelled to an altitude of approximately 18,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. It was then released into orbit three and a half hours after the launch.
On Saturday, Maxar Technologies, the manufacturer, reported that the satellite, known as Jupiter 3 or EchoStar XXIV, successfully deployed its solar panels and established communication with controllers on Earth. The company further stated that the satellite is in excellent condition. According to Maxar, Jupiter 3 holds the distinction of being the largest commercial communications satellite ever constructed.
According to a statement from manufacturer Maxar Technologies on Saturday, the satellite successfully activated its solar panels, established communication with controllers on Earth, and is in excellent condition. Maxar stated that Jupiter 3, also known as EchoStar XXIV, holds the distinction of being the largest commercial communications satellite ever constructed.
In stark contrast to the satellite broadband innovations of today, which include SpaceX’s Starlink, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper, utilizing “constellations” of numerous smaller and more affordable satellites in low Earth orbit, the approach of launching a single massive communications satellite stands out prominently.
Hughes’ Jupiter 3 takes a radically different approach. Unlike the “constellations” of smaller satellites in low Earth orbit, it is a massive nine-ton satellite, approximately the size of a bus, measuring 27 feet in length and 127 feet in width once its solar panels are deployed. Its intended orbit is much higher, a geostationary orbit positioned 22,236 miles above the equator, moving in sync with the Earth’s rotation. This strategic location, fixed in the sky, allows antennas to maintain a steady connection with the satellite without the need to constantly track and connect with a stream of swiftly passing low Earth orbit satellites closer to the planet.
While cable or fiber-optic broadband typically delivers faster speeds and lower communication delays (latency), these options may not be feasible for individuals residing in rural areas or places where conventional network technology is limited. In such cases, satellite communications can serve as a crucial means of connecting people who are otherwise challenging to bring online.
Mark Wymer, Hughes’ senior vice president of business development and strategy, expressed that individuals who have never encountered such service levels before will now have the opportunity to do so.
With SpaceX reducing launch costs, space has become more accessible to both startups and established companies. However, it still presents significant engineering challenges. In July, Viasat, a competitor of Hughes, revealed a disastrous malfunction with its ViaSat-3 satellite. The issue was related to deploying the satellite’s unusually large reflector responsible for beaming radio waves to ground stations.
Hughes’ launch, taking place at Cape Canaveral in Florida, utilizes the same rocket as ViaSat-3, namely SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. This powerful rocket has the capability to carry up to 64 metric tons of payload to low Earth orbit and 27 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, which serves as the preliminary orbit used by satellites before being maneuvered into geostationary orbit.
The total communication capacity of Jupiter 3 stands at 500 gigabits per second, encompassing both the communication to and from the customer terminals, as well as the connection with Hughes ground stations, which serves as the link to the broader internet.
According to Wymer, “We’ve placed these colocated data centers in the same facilities where many major content players store their data, ensuring minimal delays and latency.”
He remarked that the emergence of new low Earth orbit constellations of broadband satellites is compelling them to drive innovation. As an illustration, Hughes’ Fusion service has come into being, integrating communications by utilizing OneWeb’s low Earth orbit satellites along with either 4G mobile phone network technology or Hughes’ Jupiter geosynchronous satellites. Notably, Hughes, being a significant investor in OneWeb, operates under the umbrella of EchoStar.
Instant broadband during disasters or war
Satellite broadband holds significance in regions affected by war or natural calamities. For instance, SpaceX’s Starlink terminals have proven crucial for Ukrainian forces during their conflict with the Russian invasion. Moreover, in scenarios where attacks disrupt the extensive network of subsea internet cables, vital for international commerce and communications, satellite links could serve as essential backup alternatives.
Hughes collaborates with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist emergency crews in establishing temporary cellphone networks following disasters. According to Wymer, they can rapidly respond and set up or restore communication lines at a moment’s notice.
In addition to serving individual customers, Hughes’ Jupiter satellites also provide “backhaul” connections to remote cell towers that lack terrestrial connections. They also support communities, especially in South America, by facilitating the setup of community internet access points.
Jupiter 3 was designed and constructed by Maxar Technologies at its facilities in Palo Alto, California. Subsequently, Hughes transported the spacecraft to Cape Canaveral using an enormous Ukrainian Antonov aircraft.
Hughes’ Jupiter 3 satellite, launched by SpaceX after a brief delay, represents a milestone in modernizing space-based internet access. With its massive size and geostationary orbit, it offers valuable connectivity solutions for remote areas and disaster scenarios. The satellite’s launch highlights the ongoing evolution and adaptability of satellite technology.