Viasat launched its newest Real-Time Earth (RTE) facility in Ghana, Africa in early October — a day of celebration for both Viasat and its partner, the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI).
For Viasat, it adds another link to the company’s expanding RTE network. For the GSSTI, which hosts the RTE antenna, the partnership helps move Ghana closer to its goal of becoming a leader in Africa’s fast-growing space industry.
GSSTI is Ghana’s national space agency, located in the capital city of Accra. It opened in 2012 with the goal of becoming an arena of excellence in space science, space exploration, and space technology.
Viasat RTE business manager Aaron Hawkins said the institute was an ideal partner for hosting an RTE antenna.
“We knew we wanted to grow the network to cover Western Africa, and it was clear right away GSSTI was the best partner for us.,” he said. “It is a very professional organization that brings years of experience and expertise in antenna systems.”
RTE technology provides fast access to data from other satellites, typically those in low-Earth orbit (LEO). Among other uses, LEO satellites can monitor environmental changes, ocean chemistry, crop health, population shifts, and natural and manmade disasters. While those sensors work best in low orbit, data can only be transmitted from a LEO satellite when it passes over a ground station, delaying its delivery. By leveraging the power of its world-class ground antenna systems, satellite technology and global network coverage, Viasat can downlink and disseminate that data quickly and securely.
The company’s RTE network operates in five continents now, with sites in North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and Africa.
“We were evaluating several different locations in Ghana because it was an area that our customers identified as a gap in coverage — not just for RTE but for almost every ground-service provider,” Hawkins said. “The Ghana site provides equatorial coverage and fills that gap in coverage for satellite operators looking to downlink imagery in a timely manner in this critical region of the world.”
Ghana’s growth in the space industry
GSSTI project manager Eric Aggrey said Viasat is helping the institute fulfill its own goals.
Since 2011, a team of scientists and engineers from the GSSTI and South Africa have worked to convert an older 32m Ghana communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. Now known as the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory, it will become part of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) network.
SKA is the world’s largest radio telescope project. When completed, it will collect data over 386,000 square miles from radio astronomy telescopes in Africa and Australia. Designed to be a global resource, SKA is poised to help answer some of science’s greatest questions.
For GSSTI, the conversion project provided training the country’s engineers and other workers can use to build and operate their antenna and convert other antennas in Africa for use in the SKA network. It also gives Ghana more prestige and knowledge in the space industry.
Viasat contracts with GSSTI to host the antenna on site and provide preventive maintenance and 24/7 on-site emergency support. This includes a team of Viasat-trained engineers charged with maintaining the RTE installation.
“This collaboration is going to help generate income to fund the science we are
doing,” Aggrey said. “Through that, we can engage more scientists and further expand our capabilities.”
That’s not just a win for GSSTI. Supporters of the country’s burgeoning space industry believe its benefits will extend throughout Ghana. Data from satellites can help transform its agriculture practices and curtail illegal mining, while space education can be a springboard for Ghana’s next generation of engineers and academics.
Viasat’s growing RTE system
Viasat’s Ghana site currently hosts a 7.3-meter antenna that can accommodate S-, X-, and Ka-band frequencies. It will be used primarily for remote sensing data transmitted from LEO satellites, but can extend to communicate with satellites from medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and to the geostationary belt (GEO). Viasat envisions installing up to four more 7.3-meter antennas at GSSTI, or several smaller-aperture antennas, depending upon customer demand.
“The new Ghana RTE ground station is part of Viasat’s strategic growth plan for a global RTE ground service network, with prior operations already located in North America, South America, Australia and Europe,” said John Williams, vice president, Real-Time Earth at Viasat. “By working in partnership with GSSTI, we have opened a state-of-the-art RTE facility, bringing jobs and economic growth to the region, while further differentiating Viasat’s service through our ability to provide satellite operators access to world-class antenna systems for high-speed RTE connectivity of payload data across a secure network.”
The demand for high-throughput ground station service is growing dramatically, and Hawkins said Viasat is poised to meet the need.
“There’s a real renaissance in space right now; it’s accelerating at an amazing pace,” he said. “We have companies flying constellations of satellites tracking all levels of applications. RTE is looking toward the future and how we can provide the best value to our customers.
“We’re a technology house and the only ground service provider that provides our own equipment, technology, and the ground service offering. So as our technology improves, we’re able to push that out and drive the technology improvements to our customers.”