The BBC's Quantum: Flagship UK telecommunications satellite launches includes the following:
A quarter of the world's big telecoms spacecraft are manufactured in Britain, and the new Quantum platform is billed as a next-generation product.
It's fully software-defined, meaning it can be reconfigured in space to meet changing market conditions.
Traditionally, they've been configured in the factory before launch to do very specific tasks in particular markets.
This might mean, for example, transmitting only on certain radio frequencies with shaped antennas to carve out the necessary ground "footprint". But telecoms markets don't stand still, and being able to totally reconfigure an in-orbit platform would allow an operator to adapt to any shifts in the business landscape - without the need to build and launch another bespoke platform.
The operator would simply reprogram the existing satellite. Those antennas could electronically "change their shape", to tailor the bandwidth, power and frequency needs of the new territory to be served.
And this can include very changeable circumstances, such as the evolving communications requirements of aeroplanes during the day as they travel in groups across an oceanic corridor.
Electronic antennas are also more resistant to jamming, making it harder for authoritarian regimes to block the signals, including TV broadcasts, they don't like.
Footprint engineering usually involves deforming the reflector dish to so that the power is distributed on Earth in a special shape, or by adding up to 100 separate feed horns at the focal plane of a large dish for "micro-beams". The former is static, the later offers some flexibility but a the cost of other things.
For more on that see below.
Question: How does Quantum (the Flagship UK telecommunications satellite that was just launched) change either it's antenna's shape or the shape of various beam footprints?
Discussion and images of permanently deformed dishes and shaped beams in the following questions and their answers:
- How do commercial broadcast satellites in GEO produce such carefully shaped signal footprints?
- Why do these satellite antennas look so weird? (strangely shaped with little white dots...)
above: Artwork: The UKSA has put £65m into Quantum, UK industry invested £170m below: Manufacturing has been led from Airbus UK and SSTL (images from the linked BBC article credited to ESA)