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Saturday, May 25, 2024

‘Milestone Moment’ for Carlsbad’s Viasat

SPACE: Firm’s Future Riding on ‘Ultra-High-Capacity’ ViaSat-3 Satellite

Much is riding on Carlsbad-based Viasat’s vision of three ultra-high-capacity satellites offering coverage to nearly every inhabited part of the globe.

Shareholders and executives of Viasat (NASDAQ: VSAT) have spent years looking forward to – and preparing for – the first of the satellites to go into space. In a February shareholder letter, Viasat called 2023 “a milestone moment for the company’s next phase of growth.”

The price tag for building one such satellite and putting it into orbit easily runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the editors of Space News.

Viasat’s ambitious plan went into motion with the April 30 launch of the first satellite in its ViaSat-3 constellation. The first satellite will be in geostationary orbit (approximately 22,000 miles from Earth) in a spot where it can offer coverage to North, Central and South America.

The rest of the world comes next.

Mark Dankberg
Chairman and CEO

“The broadband space is going to change very substantially when we continue our shift from U.S. residential [service] to global,” Chairman and CEO Mark Dankberg said in April before the launch of ViaSat-3. “All of this is part of Viasat’s constant evolution.”

Even an event as spectacular as a rocket launch is an incremental step for a satellite. Once in space, it still must be put into its final position and prepared for commercial service.

Viasat built the custom payload for the ultra-high-capacity ViaSat-3 Americas satellite at its own facility in Arizona. Contractor Boeing integrated it with the satellite bus, or body, in the Los Angeles Area. SpaceX was tapped to launch it.

Viasat’s satellite is built on the foundation of a 702MP+ platform from Boeing (NYSE: BA), which announced the delivery of the completed satellite in March. Boeing described the product as “the most powerful satellite platform the company has built to date.”

“The result really is an engineering marvel,” said Michelle Parker, vice president of Space Mission Systems at Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security unit.

Two more satellites are expected to follow. The second will serve Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The third will serve the Asia-Pacific region.

Each satellite is anticipated to deliver at least 1 terabit of data per second. Download speeds are expected to be 100 megabits per second or greater.

The ViaSat-3 constellation is expected to boost the company’s total capacity by 600%.

Risks and Opportunities

Viasat explained the importance of the ViaSat-3 constellation, and the choices it made, in its February letter to shareholders.

“The ViaSat-3 system is intended to enable a substantial leap in space and ground technology – designed to deliver far more bandwidth per unit of capital, over very large coverage areas, with dynamic control over when and where that bandwidth is delivered ….”

“When we decided to undertake the ViaSat-3 program we understood there were cost and schedule risks,” the company also said. “Existing technology, or fewer than three satellites, could not unlock the opportunities in global mobility. We’ve faced technical, manufacturing and unprecedented pandemic challenges along the way, as did our spacecraft manufacturer.”

Each satellite weighs 6 metric tons (approximately 13,000 pounds) and has more than 25 kilowatts of power. The satellites also have some of the largest reflectors ever sent into space.

It’s communication gear operates in the Ka-band, a slice of frequency similar to a television channel.

The satellite known as ViaSat-2, which launched in 2017, is also built on the Boeing 702 platform, though it does not have the same capacity. The U.S. Department of Defense uses the model 702 vehicle for its Wideband Global Satellite Constellation.

In other news, Viasat named K. Guru Gowrappan as company president on April 13. He will work closely with Dankberg to lead Viasat’s global operations and the company’s growth strategy.


CEO: Mark Dankberg
BUSINESS: Broadband services and technologies company
REVENUE: $2.79 billion in fiscal 2022
EMPLOYEES: Approximately 7,000 worldwide
CONTACT: 760-476-2200
SOCIAL IMPACT: Viasat says it is working toward global digital inclusion by, first, building a financially sustainable business that serves populations who have yet to be connected to the internet, and second, offering that service at approachable price points
NOTABLE: Viasat traces its roots to Linkabit, a tech company with ties to UC San Diego; Viasat co-founder and CEO Mark Dankberg previously worked at Linkabit


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