ESA's 'JoeySat' can 'beam-hop' to advance 5G connectivity

Beam-hopping technology enables it to vary the power of its signals, enabling them to respond rapidly to surges in customer demand.
Jijo Malayil
ESA's beam-hopping satellite – JoeySat
ESA's beam-hopping satellite – JoeySat

The European Space Agency 

Aiming to take the connectivity game forward, the European Space Agency (ESA) has finished the initial in-orbit testing of its next-generation beam-hopping satellite

The broadband satellite, nicked JoeySat after a baby kangaroo, can offer next-generation 5G high-speed internet services. According to the agency, JoeySat, which features beam-hopping technology, is placed in low-earth orbit and can connect thousands of people traveling by air, sea, or land.

Beam-hopping satellites can link people who live or travel across large geographical regions because they can quickly alter their coverage. They may also adjust the strength of their signals, allowing them to adapt quickly to spikes in client demand, such as during natural catastrophes when emergency personnel must communicate with one another, thereby helping to service variable data demand in any given area.

JoeySat was launched into orbit on May 20, two years after ESA and OneWeb agreed to collaborate on the satellite's development. The program aims to help European space firms benefit from ESA Partnership Projects in the highly competitive worldwide market for telecommunications satellites.

A fast-paced development process

JoeySat is being developed as part of the Sunrise Partnership Project between ESA and telecommunications operator OneWeb, with backing from the UK Space Agency. It will demonstrate critical technologies for OneWeb's next-generation constellation.

According to ESA, JoeySat's digital and cutting-edge payload was created in less than a year utilizing off-the-shelf components, new space best practices, and a lean management approach. Satixfy, a communications equipment manufacturer, produced its innovative digital regenerative payload, and environmental testing was performed in the United Kingdom.

The project also serves as an example of ESA furthering innovation in next-generation 5G connectivity by working leanly with commercial off-the-shelf components and flexible project management to bring novel technologies more quickly into the market.

"The UK Space Agency has supported the mission with more than £50 million to fund both the game-changing technology behind JoeySat’s creation and the development of a wider ecosystem that will ensure a reliable and sustainable end-to-end service, said Harshbir Sangha, Missions and Capabilities Delivery Director at the UK Space Agency, in a media statement.

The testing process is on track

The satellite has completed commissioning tests of its platform and payload and begun the one-year test campaign of its innovative features, which include a digitally regenerative onboard processor. This multi-beam phased array incorporates beam-steering and beam-hopping antennas.

"JoeySat is in a near-polar orbit and will send signals via ground stations in Norway and Sweden to demonstrate the full capabilities of flexible payloads in next-generation constellations with global connectivity. Experiments will include end-to-end communications with dynamic resource allocation and 5G pilot tests with the University of Surrey," said a media statement by ESA. 

The team believes that the beam-hopping technology has the potential to improve connection and people's lives, whether that means improved internet services in rural areas or the ability to respond to emergencies more efficiently.

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