Telecom satellites are set to enter a new age, as the European Space Agency (ESA), Eutelsat and Airbus Defence & Space begin designing the most flexible payload ever. The Quantum programme is a departure from the traditional, custom, one-off approach to building satellites by offering a new and generic payload design. For the first time, it will enable users to request the performance and flexibility they need in terms of coverage, bandwidth, power and frequency.

The satellites developed under the Quantum umbrella will be cheaper and quicker to build compared to current methods by using generic subsystems and equipment, enabling larger-scale production and more efficient control of stock.

Quantum will also be able to completely transform in orbit. Once in space, the chameleon-like satellite can adapt to new commands in coverage, frequency band, and power use and even change its orbital position. This will make it the first generation of universal satellites able to serve any region of the world and adjust to new business without the user needing to buy and launch an entirely new satellite. This ability to mirror or complement another satellite anywhere in geostationary orbit will transform fleet management and result in a significantly more efficient use of resources.

As Quantum is a public–private partnership (PPP) between ESA, Eutelsat and Airbus Defence & Space (UK) the partnership ensures the three parties share risks and funds. The first Quantum satellite will be delivered in 2018 and operated by Eutelsat to serve government, mobility and data markets. Airbus DS will be the prime contractor, using a new platform from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (GB). Both developments are supported by the UK Space Agency.

Magali Vaissiere, ESA director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, said, “The Quantum programme is another excellent PPP example. Industry benefits from a new type of satellite in a highly competitive and risk-averse market, the satellite operator benefits from the satellite’s advanced features and the ESA Member States who invested in Quantum are ensured maximum return on their support through the development of their respective industries.”