2021: The year in Viasat technology

As we head into the New Year, we’re looking back on some of our top stories of 2021. In this post, we focus on stories about technology.


How satellite internet will help connect the world

As the need for connectivity continues to grow, Viasat is driving industry innovation to bring high-speed broadband to the world

New devices and new methods of communication have evolved from modern marvels to must-haves in just a short time span. At the same time, the obstacles to achieve worldwide terrestrial communication remain daunting.

Line-of-sight wireless transmission is inherently limited to relatively short distances thanks to the curvature of our planet. And the alternative land-based solution — running lines to every home, school, business or organization — requires a high enough density of users to justify the significant infrastructure expense.

And the urgency to provide broadband for communities has become even more apparent with the pandemic, when millions had to rely on their home internet for work, school, shopping, healthcare and much more.

To meet the increasingly complicated demands of the 21st Century, we need to augment those terrestrial limitations with a greater reliance on space-based communications.

Satellite broadband is increasingly providing faster speeds and more data capacity. It will not only help bridge the digital divide in countries around the world, but it is valued in many other environments that need connectivity where terrestrial service is absent. Even ultra-modern line-of-sight 5G networks rely on satellites in some areas to do the heavy lifting of backhaul — the movement of content from the user back to the network.

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satellite with team

The Viasat team in Tempe, AZ stands in front of the first ViaSat-3 satellite just before it was packed for shipment to Boeing.

First ViaSat-3 satellite’s journey to space starts with a road trip

Viasat achieved a major milestone by shipping the first satellite of the ViaSat-3 constellation to Boeing Satellite Systems

The first of three of our new ultra-high-capacity communications satellites took a successful, but nerve-rattling, 400-mile road trip in June from the Viasat payload production facility in Arizona, to the Boeing Satellite Systems facility in California. It will eventually be launched to an orbital altitude about 23,000 miles above Earth.

This first leg of the journey was a highly calculated and meticulously planned mission to Boeing, where the satellite will be integrated with the rest of the spacecraft — the “bus” — which includes the propulsion, attitude control, power subsystems, and solar arrays.

The first ViaSat-3 satellite, which will cover the Americas, is known by the team as “Flight 1.” It’s the culmination of years of work for many people who began planning ViaSat-3 six years ago and who have watched it come together over the past three years.

While there is more testing ahead before it can be launched into space, the teams in Tempe already are using learnings from Flight 1 as a blueprint for the next system.

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Viasat’s on-premises defense uses classified intel to protect customers

The company is one of only three approved by the Department of Homeland Security for the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program

One of the biggest challenges with cybersecurity is ensuring potential victims have the information they need to help prevent attacks. That’s why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) created the new Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program.

Viasat recently became just one of three companies approved to offer ECS services to customers.

Viasat has also taken a more innovative path than the other two service providers, who offer an external Off-Premises Defense Model. In contrast, Viasat offers an On-Premises Defense Model, in which a Trusted Cyber Sensors (TCS) system is placed behind the network gateway at customer sites.

The on-premises model adds a human element that can discern threat patterns that would be missed by an automated detection system. In addition, customers don’t need to upgrade their network architecture and the data is screened at the customers’ locations and never passes through an external site.

Viasat’s system could also help protect state and municipal governments from threats from ransomware and phishing attacks and even add an extra layer of security to elections to reassure election officials and the public.

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Finessing the laws of physics with Link 16

Innovative approaches enable Viasat to improve performance of tactical data links

If the earth were only flat, then radio communication waves wouldn’t be blocked by mountains, or the curvature of the planet. But the laws of physics rule otherwise.

That’s a challenge for today’s highly dispersed warfare, which relies on tactical data links to instantly connect weapons and sensors that may be thousands of miles apart. These data links, such as the widely used Link 16 system, require a clear line of sight between transmitter and receiver.

Fortunately, while the laws of physics can’t be ignored, they can be finessed.

“We can’t go through the earth with our transmissions, but we can use relays and gateways to go around it,” said Pete Camana, Viasat’s chief technology officer for tactical data links.

Merely transmitting a more powerful signal isn’t the answer: Adversaries will seek to destroy or jam any communications nodes they can detect.

“Our platforms must be able to stay hidden until they strike,” Camana said. “That means coming in at low altitudes, using deceptive routing and employing diversionary, stealth operations. All of that requires communications at much longer distances than ever before.”

Viasat’s solution is to use relays and gateways to send data short distances from node to node, all the way until the message reaches its final destination.

The company is also working with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory on operating above the atmosphere.

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