CTOs Seek to Stay Ahead of Technology Curve

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Television technology advancements

"The advancement in television technology will have a significant impact in the satellite industry," said Alan Young, CTO SES World Skies. "The move to HD television and 3D are being driven by the consumer electronics industry. Today's screens are far more capable of displaying better images than those just a few years ago. For the first time, the television display is not the limiting factor in image quality. It is now the network that limits the quality. ... The televisions which are being produced today are very capable displays. They are thin, consume less power and can display a high frame rate. Somewhere along the line, consumers will want to feed those big screen televisions with high-quality content, which is what satellite technology excels at," he says.

"Viewers will need a higher quality feed to keep up with the advancements in the displays," continues Young. "The HD standard only displays 30 pictures per second on the screen. 720p displays sacrifice a little resolution to put up 60 pictures a second. Television screens in the future will be able to display even more pictures per second. Large-screen televisions will also continue to increase in size. It is feasible in the not-so-distant future that screens will be wall-sized, but large-screen TVs show imperfections in the network. They act like magnifying glasses, and it will be easier to see these imperfections, called artifacts, in the video feed. Viewers don't want to compromise the quality of their image."

The next evolution in video broadcasting is Ultra HD. A raw HD channel requires 1.5 gigabits per second (Gbps) of bandwidth and can be compressed to 4 to 5 megabits per second (Mbps). Ultra HD will provide 16 times the resolution of an HD channel, with a raw data rate of 25 Gbps. Even when an Ultra HD channel is compressed, it is expected to be 80 to 160 Mbps. "That is a massive increase in bandwidth that needs to be transported," Young says. "In my opinion, you need a managed network to deliver high-quality video. The Internet is an unmanaged network, and because it is a general network which serves all applications, it can't be tailored just for video. Viewers want to watch programming in the highest quality possible. The future is therefore bright for satellite, because we deliver the highest quality with the highest reliability."

Interference avoidance technologies

"Interference detection and interference avoidance technologies will become increasingly important. Satellite communications works because we have assigned orbital slots and frequencies, but with more people communicating via satellite there are more incidents of satellite interference. Integrated geolocation and carrier identification will become increasingly important, especially in areas where users aren't as sensitive to the interference they are causing as others are. We are looking at several different technologies for this. Carrier ID at the uplink is one such technology that could have a positive impact on the entire industry."

The Space Data Association (SDA), a creation of Inmarsat, Intelsat and SES designed to improve the safety and efficiency of space operations, launched its Space Data Center, an automated space situational awareness system located on the Isle of Man, in July. Initial operating capabilities include conjunction assessment for 126 satellites in geostationary orbit owned by the SDA's founding members. Built on commercial software developed by Analytical Graphics, the Space Data Center now provides conjunction assessment services 197 satellites from 13 geosynchronous satellite operators and 114 operational satellites in low-Earth orbit from seven operators. The system is intended to provide members of the SDA with Web-based access to operational capabilities. The system automatically ingests and processes operator-supplied orbital data and generates automated warning alerts when necessary. It also will support avoidance maneuver planning and facilitate greater data sharing. Once fully operational, the center will be able to support radio frequency interference mitigation for commercial and government satellites in all orbits.

Spacecraft performance technologies

Another area that operators would like to see developed is technologies to improve spacecraft performance. "Refueling spacecraft is a long-range topic we are looking at," Young says.

SES also is looking at wider-band transponders that will allow each satellite to deliver more bandwidth," says Young. "Unlike the enhancements in television technologies which will appear over the next few years, space technologies have more of a 5-, 10- and 15-year development cycle. We might try small steps on different spacecraft, and the timeline to test and implement these technologies is measured in years. ... The pace of change in space is much slower than the pace of change on the ground. It is a necessity in our business. Once a satellite is launched it is harder make changes. Although the pace of change is slower, it doesn't stop us from investigating new technologies."