A very large reflector is at the heart of Viasat’s newest satellites

The next big thing in space will enable the first-ever terabit speed broadband system

When Viasat launches the first of its three ViaSat-3 satellites, it will be one of the largest, highest-capacity broadband satellites ever placed in geostationary orbit. The ViaSat-3 satellites will each represent the most powerful geostationary satellites we’ve ever launched — with significantly more capacity, flexibility, size, and power in a lighter payload package.

When you look at the rendering of this new satellite, you’ll notice a few major differences from almost any other communications satellite in geostationary orbit. The most striking is the enormous reflector — one of the largest ever sent into space — tethered to an extremely long boom arm. There are also a total of eight solar panels per wing with an overall wingspan of 144 feet, which is approximately the same as a Boeing 767 airliner.

The boom arm tethering the reflector is a direct, but larger, derivative of the James Webb Space Telescope’s mission-critical sunshade mid-booms.

The reflector, key to ViaSat-3’s mission, is exceptionally large for a commercial broadband satellite.

“I worked with reflector suppliers before coming to Viasat, and I’ve only ever seen one reflector that was larger,” said project engineer Jason Roberts. “This is among the largest reflectors that have been flown. It’s huge!”

The reflector’s very large size is possible because its truss, boundary cables and cable net supporting the wire-woven mesh are fabricated with carbon fiber, reinforced-polymers and graphite to provide the necessary elasticity and rigidity during deployment — and for long-term reliability. The reflector’s mesh consists of extremely fine gold-plated wire woven to be flexible and lightweight with excellent electrical reflection properties for the high-frequency Ka-band.

Large reflector = large capacity

But why such a large reflector? Reflector program manager Peter Lauenstein said it’s key to the satellite’s great capacity.

“A gigantic reflector helps focus the energy into an exceedingly small spot on the ground — the larger the reflector, the smaller the spot on the ground,” he said. “This allows Viasat to reuse more of the capacity because we can downlink to so many spots simultaneously.”

ViaSat-3 builds on the success of its powerful siblings, ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2, but it heralds a significant evolution of the family tree. Today, the combined capacity of our satellites is in the vicinity of 500 Gbps, but each of the three ViaSat-3 satellites is expected to have more than 1 Terabit per second (1,000 Gbps) of throughput capacity — or 3,000 Gbps total. That’s an astronomical 500% increase over the current fleet. This capacity boost will enable Viasat to provide faster speeds along with the ability to manage greater amounts of data over each satellite’s expected 15-year lifespan.

And once deployed in space, ViaSat-3 satellites’ very large size and throughput capacity will help connect the world on land, sea, air, and space.

Our first ViaSat-3 satellite also achieved flight configuration. For details on that, see our press release.

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