The first European satellite capable of being completely repurposed after launch — developed within an ESA Partnership Project — has concluded its radio-frequency tests at a specialised facility in Toulouse.
Quantum is the first ever software-defined satellite, preparing the way for the next generation of telecommunication satellites that can be reprogrammed in orbit. It offers unprecedented in-orbit reconfigurability in coverage, frequency and power, which allows for complete mission rehauls including changes in orbital position.
Engineers involved in the Quantum Partnership Project from manufacturer Airbus, operator Eutelsat and ESA have developed new working practices that have enabled them to keep working during the coronavirus pandemic. This ensures that the satellite will be fully ready to launch next year.
The radio-frequency tests are the last time that the payload of Quantum will be switched on until after its launch.
Shawn Locke, ESA payload engineer for Quantum, said: “Due to the inherent flexible nature of the Quantum solution, the approach to validation was far from conventional, requiring a complex range of frequencies and configurations. We have been working closely in partnership with Eutelsat,Airbus and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd to ensure optimal spacecraft performance in orbit. This partnership has leveraged a valuable range of technical expertise from the different stakeholders, facilitating a successful design, build and test of this unique mission.”
Silvia Fedi, another ESA payload engineer for Quantum, said: “The payload comprises a receiver section manufactured by Airbus in Spain and a processing and transmitting element developed by Airbus in the UK, employing hardware from all over Europe. It is a highly innovative architecture, providing unprecedented flexibility during operation. The teams have been working on this since 2015 and it is rewarding to see the culmination of these efforts as the satellite finishes the final validation.”
The development of the Quantum satellite under an ESA Partnership Project has been an enabler for European industry, paving the way for the new generation of standardised telecommunications satellites, which will be more flexible and so more adaptable to customer needs once in orbit.
ESA Partnership Projects allow European industry to maintain and continue developing their competitiveness on the worldwide commercial market and enable greater risk sharing, where ESA bears the risks related to the development of innovative solutions and the partner assumes the commercial risks to respond to market needs.