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O3b Ka-band sats pass in-orbit testing

O3b Networks announced earlier this week that its first four satellites have successfully cleared in-orbit testing (IOT) following their launch in June. The company has now taken over control and operation of the Ka-band satellites from their manufacturer Thales Alenia Space.

Headquartered on the British island of Jersey, O3b expects to start commercial service in the fourth quarter of this year, after the launch of another four satellites, scheduled on September 30th.

The coverage area will encompass Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia, as broadband connectivity will be delivered within 45 degrees of latitude north and south of the equator.

O3b plans on offering a maritime VSAT service aimed at cruise ships and super yachts, with speeds of up to 350 Mbps download and 150 Mbps upload. It has chosen a medium earth orbit (MEO) of 8,062 km, and not the geostationary one of 35,784 km, in order to minimise latency. It says that as its satellites are closer to the Earth, round-trip data transmission times are reduced to approximately 100 milliseconds.

Royal Caribbean has signed two deals with O3b to get satellite broadband services on board two of its cruise ships, the Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas.

One unusual aspect of the system in comparison with traditional VSAT services is that O3b satellites are equipped with steerable spot beams that are adjustable in space to track a ship. This means that all of the power available in a beam can be directed to a specific target, in this case the vessel, to deliver high data rates. Real-time tracking of the ship continues throughout its voyage to maintain the link.

O3b says that the system supports the handover of a ship from one beam to another, but in general this is not needed as it is envisioned as a regional service. For example, a cruise ship in the Caribbean can transit the whole region and never have to change beams.

After the successful tests on the first four satellites of the constellation, Jean-Loïc Galle, CEO of Thales Alenia Space, said: "We are very pleased to celebrate the in orbit acceptance of the first four O3b satellites. With the upcoming four additional satellites to be launched at the end of September, we wish great success to O3b Networks in the development of its business.”

O3b’s CTO Brian Holz said: "The handover was successfully completed ahead of schedule. Performance of all four spacecraft has been outstanding with all link parameters at or above specification. Thanks to the great work of the O3b and Thales teams, we can now look forward to our second launch with great confidence."

A third four-satellite launch is planned for 2014.

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