What the Eutelsat Quantum reprogrammable satellite could mean for space

Given our work with satellite connectivity, we’re always interested in new space industry developments at Darwin. We’re excited to see that Eutelsat Quantum, Europe’s first completely reprogrammable commercial satellite, is now in use.

Like most communications satellites, Eutelsat Quantum is in geostationary orbit, meaning it remains in the same position above the Earth’s surface as our planet rotates; it’s situated over the Indian Ocean, just east of Somalia. Its eight information-delivering beams can be reshaped and redirected from Earth, and can be sold individually to organisations to be used for various purposes. Six of the beams have already been sold.

The satellite’s reprogrammability is a valuable quality, making it highly flexible. As its beams can be moved, Eutelsat Quantum could provide continuous connectivity to a moving vehicle beyond the reach of mobile communications, such as a ship. This is a good illustration of how satellite communications can step in when mobile coverage doesn’t exist, which is an important aspect of our work at Darwin.

Satellite reprogrammability also has interesting implications for the future of space.

Satellites are expensive to build and launch, and they physically take up space in orbit. This is particularly significant for geostationary satellites, which have to orbit on a very specific path (around the equator at an altitude of 35,786 km). Because of this, reducing the number of satellites required is a positive step; achieving the same goals with fewer satellites saves money, time and resources, and it leaves more space available for essential satellites in the future.

Eutelsat Quantum helps to illustrate a future where we can achieve the same things with fewer satellites. Because of its flexibility, it can fulfil the purposes of many different organisations. If one organisation no longer needs its services, that organisation’s beam could be redirected, repurposed and sold to another organisation. This means that Eutelsat Quantum can fulfil a role that, without its reprogrammable nature, might have required many different satellites.

Eutelsat Quantum was launched on 30 July 2021, although it’s only just entered commercial use. It was born from a collaboration between satellite operator Eutelsat and satellite manufacturers Airbus and SSTL, with support from the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency.

Eutelsat Quantum is expected to remain in active use for fifteen years, after which it will be propelled into a higher ‘graveyard’ orbit, where there are no other active satellites. It’s important to have plans in place for satellite disposal before launch, as satellites that aren’t properly disposed of can fall to Earth or obstruct other satellites. To learn more about this, take a look at our article on what happens to old satellites.

Cover image: ESA

Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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