Airbus announced on Monday, September 11, 2023, that it will be providing one of its latest generation OneSat satellites to Thaicom. The Europe-made satellite spacecraft will be called Thaicom-9 and will be serving millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region, positioned in orbit at 119.5° East. Airbus expects the satellite to be delivered in 2027 and will be also providing ground support solutions.
📣Thaicom contracts Airbus for a OneSat flexible telecommunications satellite.— Airbus Space (@AirbusSpace) September 11, 2023
This 9th Airbus-built software defined satellite will expand capacity to Thaicom for broadband applications.
👉Read more about it in the official press release: https://t.co/RNeDIHtECH pic.twitter.com/hiuWXQ7gzw
The Thai company has been a prominent telecommunications operator for quite some time, since 1991. It’s been steadily expanding its constellation of Geostationary Orbit satellites over the last 20 years.
Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Airbus Space Systems, said Airbus looks “forward to further building our relationship in the future”, while Thaicom’s CEO, Patompob (Nile) Suwansiri, felt delighted and stated they “trust that Airbus will be our best choice for building our new satellite”.
Different satellites, different stories
The first Thaicom satellite, Thaicom-1, served an area encompassing Japan and Singapore. It was developed by American company Hughes Aerospace and was the first domestic Thai satellite system. It was equipped to use C-band and Ku-band beams for commercial telecommunications. Launched back in December 1993 aboard an Ariane 44L, from Kourou in French Guyana, it spent its life in GTO until it was decommissioned in 2010.
The next produced satellites were developed to enlarge the network and coverage of other areas and countries. Thaicom relied on different companies and launch providers, with the production of the satellites shifting back and forward between the US and Europe. Hughes built Thaicom-2, and then the Aérospatiale SpaceBus 3000A was utilized for Thaicom-3.
Thaicom-4, aka IPSTAR, came back to the US with Space System Loral and is now the oldest Thaicom satellite still in use. It was launched in 2005 for the first time aboard an Ariane 5 GS. Thaicom-5 used another European Aérospatiale satellite. Thaicom-6, 7, and 8 returned to the States, first with Space System Loral and then with what is now called Orbital ATK. Over two years, from 2014 to 2016, the company renovated the remaining, aging satellite fleet. The launch provider also changed, with SpaceX employing its Falcon 9.
Now the winds have changed again, with Airbus stepping forward to lead the Thai group back to Europe, snatching back Thaicom from the hands of Northrop Grumman subsidiaries.
The “flexible” OneSat
The European aerospace company, which is progressively expanding into the worldwide space economy, is pushing for more efficient, more versatile satellites.
The OneSat platform was announced back in 2019 with its first clients, Inmarsat 7, 8 and 9. With the Thaicom-9 order now official, there are currently 9 OneSats in development or already in production. In fact, the OneSat project is based on the European experience of Eurostar satellites, and it already received a positive Final Design Review in October 2021. It’s also designed to be modular, standardized, and therefore more affordable. ESA, CNES, and the UK Space Agency are all working on the project, with expertise also coming from OneWeb and their constellation program.
But what exactly makes OneSat “revolutionary”? It’s a new technology that permits the satellites to adapt to different requests. As a High Throughput Satellite, the amount of data that can be transmitted is consistent, but the actual demand for bandwidth changes over time. OneSat can not only change its transmission capacity but also the frequencies used and even the coverage zones, all this with ease, favored by software solutions.
The satellites will be capable of pointing their Ku band transmitters on different spots more straightforwardly and easily. Relocating a OneSat to another spot of Geostationary Orbit will make it possible to change mission objectives and use the same satellite for a whole other purpose even after years of service.
With more and more satellites taking advantage of new technologies and transmission capabilities, Airbus is promising to be one of the most relevant space companies of the next few years.