The world’s first commercial fully reprogrammable satellite has been launched, ushering in a new era of more flexible communications.
Unlike conventional models that are designed and “hard-wired” on Earth and cannot be repurposed once in orbit, the UK-engineered Eutelsat Quantum allows users to tailor it almost in real-time.
The satellite was launched from French Guiana on Friday on board an Ariane 5 rocket.
Because it can be reprogrammed while orbiting in a fixed position 35,000km (22,000 miles) above the Earth, the Quantum can respond to changing demands for data transmission and secure communications during its 15-year lifetime, according to the European Space Agency.
The 3.5 tonne Quantum model has eight communications beams, each of which can be modified to change its area of coverage and also the power of the signal it emits.
Using software made available to the customer, these changes can be made “in a matter of minutes”, according to Eutelsat.
This means the satellite can be used to provide mobile coverage for moving objects such as aircraft and oceangoing vessels, or coverage after a natural disaster or for one-off events.
And at a time of growing concern over digital security – as well as the possible weaponising of space – Quantum is able to pinpoint the origin of signals emitted with or without malicious intent and take action to remedy any interference.
The Quantum will cover a large area from west Africa to Asia.