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Satellite Communications Technology

Novel satellite starts to take shape

(15 July 2020 - ESA) The service module for the first satellite to be built as part of ESA’s Eurostar Neo satellite development programme has left the UK for Toulouse in France.

It was built at Airbus’s UK base in Stevenage – but its home in space will be in geostationary orbit, where it will broadcast hundreds of television channels into homes across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East for its operator, Eutelsat.

The service module for the Eutelsat Hotbird 13x satellite houses both the main electric propulsion and auxiliary propulsion subsystems. Once it arrives at Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, the assembly and test teams will start to integrate its platform electronics needed for the basic control and operation of a satellite, including its power supply and its data processing and storage.

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First Eurostar Neo satellite's service module (courtesy: Airbus)

In parallel, at Airbus’s facility in Portsmouth, the satellite’s communications module is being populated with its payload equipment. It will then also be transferred to Toulouse, where the communications module and the service module will be mated towards the end of 2020.

The complete satellite will then be prepared for its environmental test campaign, which simulates the extreme conditions of launch and in orbit, in the first half of 2021.

Eurostar Neo is part of Neosat, an ESA Partnership Project to develop and qualify next-generation platforms that allow the two main European satellite integrators, Airbus and Thales Alenia Space, to deliver competitive satellites for the commercial telecommunications satellite market.

Partnership Projects such as Neosat federate European industry around large-scale programmes, achieving competitive leaps forward and economic impacts.

Just four years since the start of the product line developments, 11 Neosat-based satellites (four Eurostar Neo and seven Spacebus Neo) have been sold by European industry, generating more than 20 times the return on investment to the programme’s participating states and their industries, according to an independent analysis by Euroconsult.

The Neosat programme uses a mixture of new innovation and off-the-shelf components, which speeds the time it takes to build and test satellites, while cutting costs.

The Eurostar Neo platform uses electric propulsion as its main means of orbit raising and station keeping, which is much more efficient than its chemical equivalent. Eurostar Neo benefits from successful heritage from previous electric orbit raising missions on Eurostar E3000. This is a key driver of competitiveness as it enables satellites to carry more payload equipment and less fuel.

The Eurostar Neo product line is developed by Airbus in the frame of ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES), in cooperation with space agencies from ESA Member States, particularly the CNES French space agency and the UK Space Agency.

“The Eurostar Neo is the latest phase in the highly successful and reliable Airbus Eurostar telecommunications satellites, which have accumulated 820 years of service in orbit. This important milestone is key to deliver the latest state-of-the-art satellite to Eutelsat,” said Martin De’Ath, Head of Mechanical Platform Products at Airbus UK.