Boeing Satellite Systems built our ViaSat-2 satellite, which launched in 2017, and the company is also working with us on our upcoming ViaSat-3 global satellite constellation. Viasat and Boeing recently announced Viasat’s order for the third of those satellites, so we took this opportunity to ask a few questions of Chris Johnson, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International in El Segundo, CA.
Q: Chris, you’ve had a long history with Boeing — starting with the Company back in 1998, as an intern in attitude control and flight operations. What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in the space industry since your start?
Boeing’s 702 satellite bus platform is what Viasat’s newest satellites are built upon. Image: Boeing
Chris Johnson: It certainly has been an exciting 20 years in the satellite industry and I’ve been extremely fortunate to be involved in many cutting-edge projects on both the Commercial and Government sides of our business. I would say the biggest change during this time is the exponential increase in the capabilities of the payloads and the corresponding expansion of business models to take advantage of these capabilities.
Q: Viasat has worked with Boeing on the ViaSat-2 satellite system, and now the two companies have aligned again to bring three ViaSat-3 ultra-high capacity satellites to the global market. With the recent news of the third ViaSat-3 to use a Boeing spacecraft bus, how important is that to the Boeing Space program?
Chris Johnson: The continuation of the Viasat-Boeing partnership with this latest addition to Viasat’s satellite family is a testament to the great relationship between our two companies that began in 2013. Boeing values this important relationship and looks forward to our future together.
Q: The ViaSat-3 program is likely more unique than your traditional Boeing program – as Viasat is building the ViaSat-3 satellite payload and Boeing is providing the satellite bus platform, spacecraft integration and environmental testing, launch vehicle integration and mission operations services. What does that collaboration look like throughout the process?
Chris Johnson: Boeing and Viasat partner every step of the way to ensure that Viasat’s goals and objectives are Boeing’s goals and objectives. The relationship requires a very close and focused collaboration so that a seamless integration of bus and payload can take place. Also, while no two customers are alike, Boeing has the ability to build satellites to meet each customer’s individual business needs.
Q: The ViaSat-3 spacecraft will use the 702 satellite bus platform, which has maintained enduring success over the past few decades. Can you tell us a little bit about the 702?
Chris Johnson: The scalability of the 702 platform makes it ideal for a variety of customer missions because it can support a wide range of satellite size, payload power and mass. Spacecraft reliability is enhanced by its many flight-proven components. The flexibility of Boeing’s 702 platform provides the ability to apply innovation and evolve our product line to meet the rapidly changing needs of our customers such as Viasat. We continue to work with our customers to understand their needs and how we can innovate to help them meet those needs.
Q: Viasat continually seeks to garner as much productivity out of its satellites as possible — which means having the most capacity at the lowest cost per bit. How does Boeing work with Viasat to continually reduce the cost of bits per second?
Chris Johnson: In the design, assembly, integration, testing and on-orbit operations of its satellite systems, Boeing is committed to striking the best balance between mission success and production cost. Our Mission Control Center in El Segundo, where Boeing’s satellite flight operations are conducted, supports the customer’s business or mission objectives through launch, on-orbit satellite system deployments, on-orbit check out, testing, customer handover, and post-handover customer support, and is the epicenter of satellite operations in support of customers throughout the world. We continually work with Viasat to find ways to meet and exceed their mission and business objectives. We are applying innovation and evolving our product line while working to reduce the cost of bits per second.