As a child, Aaron Mendelsohn dreamed of working in space. Today, he’s the chief engineer on ViaSat-3 –Viasat’s innovative new space constellation. The VS-3 trio of satellites is designed to provide near-global satellite communications coverage, providing secure, reliable communications capabilities to people no matter where they live, work, or play.
Mendelsohn works with teams throughout Viasat to coordinate the design of the three spacecrafts — from their construction at Viasat’s Tempe facility to integration with the buses at Boeing and beyond.
“The fun part about building satellites is that it’s so hardware intensive,” he said. “And it still has a cool factor associated with it. There aren’t a lot of people working on things that go into outer space.”
What also makes Mendelsohn’s work fun is working with his fellow engineers.
“Having a good, coordinated and smart team makes it easier to solve hard problems,” he said.
Mendelsohn began fulfilling his dream of a space career at Lockheed Martin’s space division in 1988, and later at Loral Space. He joined Viasat in 2008.
“Viasat brought a breath of fresh air with innovative ideas and a different mindset than the ‘old school’ aerospace gigs of my previous employment,” Mendelsohn said. “It offered the chance to do something new versus just building the same thing.”
Few have had a more intimate view of the evolution of Viasat’s satellites than Mendelsohn. He played a pivotal role in the development of ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2. For ViaSat-3, he works hand-in-hand with Boeing’s top engineer.
ViaSat-3’s payloads are first constructed by Viasat employees at the Tempe, AZ facility, then sent to Boeing’s El Segundo, CA facility to integrate with the bus — which includes the propulsion, attitude control, power subsystems, and solar arrays.
“My team and I work with the Boeing team to create all of the specifications that dictate the interfaces between the bus and the payload — essentially coordinating the whole spacecraft design,” Mendelsohn said.
With each satellite, he said the company has furthered its reputation for expanding the boundaries of satellite technology. And ViaSat-3 does that yet again.
“Before ViaSat-1 came along, communications satellites had pretty low bandwidth capacity, and weren’t really designed for large-scale consumer services,” he said. “It was really Viasat that pushed the existing technology that was being used in space to its maximum. ViaSat-1 provided the idea for reconfiguring it, and getting higher capacity, and ViaSat-2 pushed it further.
“ViaSat-3 is a whole different animal. The complexity of the ground system is much higher, and so is the satellite. We had to help the satellite partners uncover things they didn’t know they could do, but we knew they could.”
Viasat’s partners, including Boeing and other companies, produce components needed to build the company’s satellites.
“We had to convince them we could make a satellite with greater capacity,” Mendelsohn said. “And we did that with electric propulsion.”
Electric propulsion reduces the amount of mass taken up by fuel, which enables us to increase the size of the payload. According to Boeing, ViaSat-3 is the largest satellite in both size and power that it has built, and one of the largest satellites in the industry.
“To serve customers around the world requires a satellite of a different type,” he said. “To do that, we have to be innovative and find new solutions.”
Mendelsohn said Viasat’s devotion to constant innovation is simply part of its business plan and now that innovation will come to fruition with the launch ViaSat-3.