The Critical Link

Details Behind the Biggest Space Headline of the Summer

Telesat Lightspeed satellite with OISLs around Earth MDA logo, Telesat logo and Telesat Lightspeed logo

Last month Telesat announced MDA as the prime contractor for our fully-financed Telesat Lightspeed Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation. It was the satellite story of the summer and the culmination of over two years of hard work behind the scenes.

We had been ready to move forward in early 2021, but COVID-related supply chain delays and inflationary pressures threw a massive wrench into our plans. We had a strong platform design focused on the enterprise broadband market. We had total conviction in the business opportunity, which is the massive and fast-growing demand for high-throughput, secure, low-latency broadband connectivity in the enterprise market. We always had strong support from the Canadian federal and provincial governments as well as our Board of Directors. It was always a question of when we would move forward – not if.

So, you can only imagine how satisfying Friday, August 11th was for every Telesat employee when we announced our new satellite prime contractor and that the Telesat Lightspeed program was underway.

There is an expression “fortune favors the prepared mind,” and Telesat was prepared for this long-awaited moment. A big piece of the credit goes to our engineering team for finding a better path forward. Working closely with MDA, they developed a state-of-the-art design that delivers all the original performance capabilities of the initial design, but at a greatly reduced cost – saving over $2 billion in U.S. dollars. It’s the biggest contract in MDA’s history, and Telesat couldn’t be more pleased to have them as the prime partner.

MDA was also involved in the original Telesat Lightspeed design but was not the prime contractor. MDA was going to provide the analog direct radiating antennas — the DRAs — something they have a great history of doing. The game-changer in the revised design was MDA’s digital beam-forming DRAs. Back in 2021, our engineers felt that the the digital DRA technology was incredibly promising, but it wasn’t ready for prime time. Telesat tries to be forward-leaning in terms of technology, but not risk-embracing in terms of schedule, price, or performance.

Late last year we revisited the digital beamforming array antennas and integrated regenerative processor with MDA. MDA had continued investing in the technology since 2021 and it was now de-risked from a technical standpoint. The digital beam former is much more efficient than the analog one that we had been looking at previously. It can generate triple the number of beams per satellite, resulting in better link performance, increased network efficiency, and enhanced flexibility to focus and dynamically deliver capacity to users.

Instead of having two pairs of antennas on every satellite, we can accomplish the same thing, and a bit more, with just one pair of antennas, which allows us to reduce the size of the satellite bus, further driving cost efficiencies. Plus, we didn’t have to compromise on effective capacity, performance or schedule, all things essential to us and our customers.

While we would have preferred to already have the satellites in orbit, ironically, we’ve actually landed in a much better place due to the delay. We’ve skipped straight to our second-generation LEO constellation with an even stronger business case.

The capital investment for the Telesat Lightspeed program is now approximately US$3.5 billion and includes 198 Telesat Lightspeed satellites, satellite launch vehicles, a global ground network of landing stations and operations centers, business and operations support systems, and expenditures to support the further development of a portfolio of user terminals for Telesat’s target markets. Enterprise-class LEO delivers “fibre in the sky” where terrestrial isn’t feasible and will benefit so many markets – energy, air flight, rural broadband, mobile telecom, shipping, government, first responders, and national security.

Now the entire world knows – Telesat Lightspeed is fully funded and expects to begin launching in mid-2026, with full global services by the end of 2027. Now it’s pedal to the metal – execution time!

Agreements are also in place to launch Telesat Lightspeed into space. In addition to previously announced agreements with Blue Origin and Relativity Space, Telesat has contracted 14 launches on SpaceX’s highly reliable Falcon 9 rocket. Each Falcon 9 will carry up to 18 Telesat Lightspeed satellites per launch.

Telesat’s long history of space innovation and the enterprise focus of Telesat Lightspeed make it unlike any other LEO constellation. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular updates on our progress.  And as you might guess – yes, we’re hiring! If you’d like to contribute to one of the biggest projects in space today, view our current job openings!

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