TAMPA, Fla. — Telesat is preparing to resume demonstrations for its delayed low Earth orbit broadband constellation after Rocket Lab successfully launched the Canadian operator’s latest prototype satellite.
The 30-kilogram LEO 3 spacecraft deployed solar arrays and passed initial health checks after launching July 17 on an Electron along with six smaller satellites, according to the operator.
About two more weeks of tests are needed before LEO 3 can be put into operation, said Robert Zee, director of the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), the Toronto small satellite specialist that built it for Telesat.
LEO 1, the previous demonstrator for Telesat’s proposed Lightspeed network, launched in 2018 but recently ran out of fuel as negotiations to fully fund nearly 200 commercial satellites drag on.
LEO 2 never made it to orbit. Built by SFL in partnership with Maxar Technologies, LEO 2 was one of 19 satellites lost in a 2017 Russian Soyuz launch failure.
In its latest update, Telesat said it expects to start deploying full-size Lightspeed satellites around 2026, six years later than originally planned for a constellation that has also suffered pandemic-related supply chain issues at Thales Alenia Space.
The operator declined to specify where it plans to resume testing terminals and modems with vendors once LEO 3 becomes operational to address interest from potential customers.
LEO 1, a Ka-band satellite also known as Phase 1, had helped test planned services with partners including India’s Nelco, a communications provider under local conglomerate Tata.
While Telesat director marketing and communications Lynette Simmons said the company has a backlog of vendor and customer tests to get through, she said it is up to them to publicize their demonstration campaign.
The company expects LEO 3’s first testing campaigns will be in Asia, followed by Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Simmons added.
Progress with LEO 3 could also help Telesat’s case for the deadline extensions it would need from regulators to deploy commercial satellites.
International regulators recently relaxed deployment milestone rules for 576 satellites proposed by Rivada Space Networks, which said the pandemic had made it difficult to stick to schedule.
SFL, part of Canada’s University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, said LEO 3 also has some upgrades over LEO 1, built by U.K.-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL).
In addition to Ka-band, LEO 3 is designed to transmit and receive in Q-band and V-band spectrum, which could be useful for a second-generation Lightspeed network.
Zee said the LEO 3 payload mission is expected to last five years. LEO 1 had a three-year design life, ultimately exceeding this by about two years before being decommissioned at the end of May.