Modular Design of Telecommunication Satellites (MDTS)

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Emerging mobile and fixed broadband telecom satellites require high capacity platforms able to support wide range of flexible payloads types. Today, for each new procured satellite, several highly skilled engineers start the design of the panels. In other words, each satellite is a unique design. Cost reduction demands that very different missions are accommodated on the same platforms minimising the non recurrent part of the platform while keeping platform capacity to the right level.

The objective of the study has been to brainstorm potential communication satellite standardized modules and to derive a solution which allows to save manpower and costs for non-recurring and recurring satellites design and to shorten the AIT process, giving also an estimation of the relative high non-recurring costs for the design and prototyping of the standardised modules.

Considering the overall objective of the study as described above, the detailed ones are listed as follows:

  • To analyze the feasibility and benchmarking of alternative configurations for payload and the platform of TLC satellites.
  • To identify and analyse critical elements on payload and platform and relevant AIT processes, in order to target a more standardized approach for the different sub-systems of a satellite (e.g. power sub-system, AOCS, TT&C, propulsion, payload repeater and antennae a reduction), achieving an overall reduction in design effort, assembly time and necessary repair, thereby allowing for cost reduction of satellites.
  • To produce a technological and strategic development roadmap taking into account available and planned European platform product lines.
  • To evaluate the market potential of the new concepts with the aim of to improve the existing European satellite product portfolio.

Modularity and flexibility are the key issues of the study. These have been applied at satellite platform and telecommunication (TLC) payload level finding suitable technical solutions to design and implement satellites in a new and more efficient way, improving their capabilities and performances, reducing at the same time the implementation cost.


The technical brainstorming on potential communication satellite standardized modules and derived solutions which allows to save manpower and cost for non-recurring and recurring satellites design and to shorten the AIT process have been investigated starting from the current state-of–the-art.

In the last years particularly, the modularity of the TLC payload knows large improvements addressed at the flexibility of the architecture and the modularity in the equipment configuration and integration. This is stimulated also by new emerging technologies in the space context as the optic/photonic techniques for the connectivity on board satellite (optic technology) and for the components at payload level (photonic technology), the multi-port amplifier making available a large reduction in mass and volume and giving the possibility to improve a lot the configurability that is the flexibility.

The fundamental results of the study can be summarised in three main work steps:

  • The first step where the modularity and flexibility possibilities have been investigated and related solutions have been proposed. Adopting a gradual approach to enable the possibility to start from current technical capabilities for an immediate start in concept development and implementation. Arriving at future innovative concepts that need time to be finalised and implemented.
  • The second step where an exercise has been done trying to tailor the three concepts on three possible and currently more interesting space missions: for mobile service in the UAV context, for IP Routing on board Satellite (IPRoS) technique and for Air traffic Control and (ATC) and Management (ATM) via satellite. A trade-off has been consequently done also considering the designs and implementation of a Concurrent Design approach.
  • The final step has been a brief but consistent exercise in trying to propose a possible roadmap and in giving a gross idea of the costs.

The above steps give three areas where the benefits can be envisaged: in the technological area (development), in the mission area (application) and in the market area (commercial approach).

Intent of the Consortium is to continue in developing the modular and flexible technology to improve the TLC satellite production and its impact on the related market.


The technical brainstorming for the objective of modularity and flexibility on potential communication satellite standardized modules and derived solutions which allows to save manpower and cost for non-recurring and recurring satellites design and to shorten the AIT process have been investigated starting from the current state-of–the-art on some critical technologies having the possibility to make an actual way to design the new generation satellites in a possible very close future.

The starting point and, at the same time, the approach for the entire activity has been the identification and analysis of the modularity already present in the current way to design and manufacture a complete (platform + payload) TLC satellite, trying also to highlight the critical factors or elements constituting obstacle for a complete modularity and flexibility implementation.

For what concern the platform the question that TLC satellites of today are only partly modular is because each subsystem has an impact on the other one for instance for what concern the satellite platform the thermal control function, at same time already the power distribution can be easily modular because it is possible to tune the power with the addition of some strings to the solar panels and/or by adding rows of cells in the battery.

For the satellite (platform + payload) flexibility three possible concepts have been identified for the modularity and flexibility approach, i.e.:

Classical Flexibility Concept (CFC) is the less innovative and it is meant to render the satellites of today as modular as possible without huge breakthrough by optimizing some features (electric propulsion, reorganization of the volumes, thermal and electrical interfaces etc.).

Central Tube Concept (CTC) is meant to optimize the payload accommodation volume and some features while on orbit thanks to a wise deployment of modules away from the central tube and backbone interface. Fig. 1 depicts t a possible CTC configuration.

Fig.1: Centralised Config

click for larger image

Module Configuration Concept (MCC) is meant to optimize the ROI, i.e. the same modules may be used for a SATCOM in GEO and for a SATCOM in LEO with small adaptations:

  • Each module has the ability to work alone in GEO or in LEO as a single satellite and to work attached to another module in order to form a bigger assembly.
  • The assembly can evolve once in orbit.
  • Each module presents the adequate interface to accommodate antennas (reflectors and sources), batteries, solar arrays, radiators, TTC subsystem, data handling, payload equipment, etc. When the modules are part of an assembly forming a bigger satellite some interfaces will not be used.

Modularity and flexibility concepts are strictly connected with the capability both to adapt during the mission lifetime the payload mission to dynamic requirements updating and the capability, at design stage, to adopt a standardized solution in order to achieve a manufacturing optimization and a cost reduction for the commercial market enjoying the benefits of standard integration and test procedures.

Payload modularity can be achieved acting on each sub-system composing the TLC payload itself, as shown in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2: Main payload concepts for modular design

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The study activity has been executed in one phase only and has been completed.

Current status

The study has been successfully concluded.