In the early days of spaceflight, every new satellite was a one off. Today, satellites are produced in classes, but each new mission still needs a satellite that's individually configured for its role. With the goal of creating a next-generation universal satellite, ESA, Eutelsat, and Airbus Defence & Space have signed an agreement to develop the first fully reconfigurable Quantum satellite.

For the most part, satellites are extremely complex, very expensive pieces of technology designed to operate in an extremely hostile environment. One of the things that adds to the expense is that each satellite is configured before launch, so if its old job goes away or changes, a new satellite has to be sent up to replace it. This not only means another expensive satellite and another expensive launch, but the scrapping of a perfectly good spacecraft that may have years of life in it.

The Quantum satellite is designed to be a spacecraft that can not only be configured for a number of different missions, but one that can also be reconfigured in orbit to take on a new job. It will be built quicker and cheaper using generic subsystems and equipment, including phased array antennas.

The latter is example of the new philosophy. Normally, satellites are fitted with antennas that are mechanically shaped for their jobs. In Quantum, the phased array can be reconfigured electronically. In the same fashion, the entire Quantum spacecraft can reconfigure its frequency band, area of coverage, and power levels, and can even alter its orbit any time during its 15 year service life.

Quantum is based on new small geo satellite platform called GMPT from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Airbus DS is slated to be the prime contractor, and the satellites will be operated by Eutelsat after the first Quantum is delivered in 2018.

View gallery - 2 images