Can we have 4G orbitals

4G at the North Pole.

Thales Alenia Space manufactures next-generation telecommunications satellites in Cannes. From there, the freight forwarder Hence and Lufthansa Cargo transport the high-tech Trabanten to America. At the “planet” on-site meeting, Lufthansa Cargo Board Member for Sales Alexis von Hoensbroech took a very close look at production.

Alexis von Hoensbroech is impressed by Denis Allard (left), Vice President of the Iridium NEXT project at Thales Alenia Space, and the size of the satellites.

Whether on an expedition to Antarctica, on board a ship in polar waters or in an airplane when crossing remote regions - one thing has become indispensable: the satellite telephone. Four providers have established themselves on the market for this, right at the forefront: Iridium Communications Inc. The beginnings go back to 1998. At that time, the Motorola subsidiary Iridium SSC was founded as a pure telephone service.

Changed framework conditions and better technology then tipped the scales to dare to “reboot” - as a quality provider for satellite-supported voice and data services. Today Iridium is listed on the Nasdaq and serves hundreds of thousands of customers at sea, in the air and on earth. The background to the success: the combination of the experience of long-term employees with future-oriented ideas from the “Space 2.0” environment.

The future is called Iridium NEXT - the world's largest near-earth constellation of telecommunications satellites. Eleven satellites each in six orbits will replace the previous system and add new functionalities to the mobile service.

Iridium has commissioned satellites: 66 to make up the network, six in-orbit spare satellites and nine more as reserves on the ground. The producer is the southern French company Thales Alenia Space. The company headquarters on the French Riviera, not far from the city center of Cannes, looks modest. One can hardly guess what high technology is hidden behind the walls.

Logistical top performance for on-time delivery.

A look into the clean room, the company's production facility, tells many exciting stories: about satellites built to explore Mars. From solar probes as long as a small airplane. From spacecraft, built only to ensure telecommunications on our planet. Nicolas Poggioli is the production manager for Iridium satellites at Thales Alenia Space. Today he gives an insight into his work and has a particularly enthusiastic guest: Alexis von Hoensbroech, Board Member for Product and Sales at Lufthansa Cargo.

Two mighty containers are ready in the 15,000 square meter clean room to air freight the next two Iridium satellites to Gilbert, Arizona, undamaged. The transport is carried out by the haulage company, Lufthansa Cargo is the operating airline. Alexis von Hoensbroech's economic interest is quickly established - but above all, he also has a private and more scientifically motivated interest. As a doctor of astrophysics, a childhood dream comes true for him: "Seeing a real satellite up close once."

There are more than enough of these in the Thales Alenia Space manufacturing facility. Satellites for navigation - Thales played a key role in the construction of the GALILEO satellite navigation system - satellites for recording weather data, as well as those for science. Last but not least: satellites for telecommunications. The first two Iridium NEXT satellites are currently being transported into orbit and will initially be inserted into the old Iridium system. On board SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, US launch vehicles, the remaining 70 satellites will then be successively sent into orbit - ten each on board. If everything goes according to plan, the project will be completed successfully in 2017. Then all 72 satellites will be in orbit and will ensure internet and telecommunications even in the most remote parts of the world.

For Thales Alenia Space and its service providers, this ambitious plan means one thing above all else: top performance in terms of production technology and logistics. "Up until the end of 2015, we produced one satellite a month, since the beginning of 2016 there have been three satellites a month, and from summer the number will increase to five in order to meet the strict deadline," explains Poggioli. On average, one satellite has to be transported from Cannes via Frankfurt to Gilbert in the United States every week. There, the satellites will receive their final configuration and will be tested at the Orbital ATK plant.

As a transport solution, Thales Alenia Space has specially manufactured oversized refrigerated containers. The mega dimensions: 450 centimeters in length, 244 centimeters in width and 230 centimeters in height. Special refrigerated trucks are required to bring the containers to Frankfurt undamaged. Once there, Lufthansa Cargo continues to Los Angeles, where a truck specially created for this purpose takes over the route to Arizona. The only question that arises is: do satellites need to be cooled?

“A classic misunderstanding,” laughs Francis Couillault. The 56-year-old is Executive Operations Manager at the logistics service provider Therefore - and thus the master of the supply chain. “Rather, with these sensitive goods it is about being transported temperature-controlled, so a certain temperature range is maintained all the time.” Other important requirements for the tailor-made containers: shock sensitivity and the neutralization of other external influences such as pollution.

Responsiveness, efficiency and quality are success factors.

"The extensive experience that Lufthansa Cargo offers in the transport of temperature-controlled goods and the in-house Cool Center in Frankfurt make Lufthansa Cargo the perfect partner for us for transports," explains Couillault. For Denis Allard, Vice President of the Iridium NEXT project at Thales Alenia Space, it was important to know which airline his satellites are flown with: “It is essential for us to be able to track how the airline handles our sensitive freight . The partnership between Hence and Lufthansa Cargo convinced us because, in addition to punctuality and quality, we attach great importance to responsiveness, adaptability, efficiency and professionalism. "

Before the contract was signed, salesman Philippe Bourry from Lufthansa Cargo had already assured that the cargo crane could do this - and with his colleagues in the Cool team in Frankfurt, he had long since proven it. "The direct insight into the production nevertheless creates a fundamental understanding that is often missing during discussions at the desk," says the 48-year-old. Alexis von Hoensbroech agrees: “The personal exchange with the end customer is a gain. In this way, we can further develop ourselves and our product range specifically and, if necessary, adapt our processes and offers quickly and precisely. "

This is Thales Alenia Space for me:
Thales Alenia Space is a key player in the exploration of our universe. As the European market leader in satellite navigation, Thales Alenia Space plays a key role in the development of the latest technologies.

That impressed me:
Dedication and the highest quality standards. During my visit, one thing was clear: everyone who lays their hands on these satellites does so with the greatest dedication to their work. The result is fantastic quality.

I take this with me:
As a studied astrophysicist, a dream came true for me to see a satellite at its “birth”. It is fascinating to know what added value Thales technologies bring for all of us, how everyone benefits from this research - be it through weather data, navigation or telecommunications.

 

Photos:

Bernhard Huber, Jürgen Mai

planet 01/2016