Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

First phone calls placed through Thuraya 1 satellite
Posted: December 4, 2000

An artist's concept of the Thuraya geomobile communications spacecraft in orbit. Photo: Boeing Satellite Systems.
In little more than a month following its launch, the Thuraya-1 satellite has successfully completed its Initial Operational Test (IOT) phase.

During IOT, Thuraya's C-band antenna, solar wings and 12-meter-diameter L-band reflector were deployed and tested, and the first telephone calls on the Thuraya-1 satellite have been completed.

The first call was placed to Mohammad Hassan Omran, chairman of Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company in the United Arab Emirates. Thuraya, a turnkey space-based mobile communications system, was built for Thuraya by Boeing Satellite Systems Inc. (BSS), formerly Hughes Space and Communications Company, and now part of The Boeing Company.

"The culmination of IOT testing is a critical milestone for the program," stated Tig Krekel, president of Boeing Satellite Systems. "The satellite is operating beautifully and we have now entered the overall system integration and verification phase."

During the next few months, Boeing engineers will test the other major elements of the Thuraya system including the communications gateway, billing subsystem, network operation center and mobile phones. Service is due to start in the first half of 2001 when Boeing hands over the system to Thuraya.

Thuraya-1 was launched on Oct. 20 by a Sea Launch Zenit rocket. The Thuraya Company will provide satellite-based mobile communications and payphone services to approximately 1.8 billion people in 100 countries across the Middle East, North and Central Africa, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and other parts of Asia.

Shortly after launch, controllers unfolded the satellite's high-efficiency solar wings, which stretch 113 feet (34.5 meters) from end to end. Thuraya-1 is the second satellite to carry this new style of wing, which has angled solar reflector panels along each side that concentrate more of the sun's rays onto the solar cells in order to generate increased power. The gallium arsenide solar cells, from Boeing Spectrolab, are among the most efficient available, able to convert nearly 25 percent of the sun's rays into spacecraft power.

Controllers also unfurled the innovative, 40-foot (12.25-meter) L-band transmit-receive reflector provided by TRW Astro Aerospace. The large reflector combined with Boeing's on-board digital signal processing, create an active phased-array antenna which allows the spacecraft to create more than 200 spot beams and handle 13,750 simultaneous phone calls. The digital signal processor, five times more capable than any previous Boeing digital processor, has more computing power than 3,000 Pentium III-based computers.

Illustrations of Thuraya 1 in its launch and in-orbit configurations. Photos: Boeing
This was the first satellite launched under the BSS name, as well as the first in the Boeing GEO Mobile (GEM) line. The GEM satellites are geosynchronous spacecraft derived from the high-power Boeing 702 series, providing services to mobile users via GSM-compatible cell phones.

"Whenever you debut a new product, like a spacecraft line, you do careful calculations and simulations, and hope your best estimates are correct," added Krekel. "I'm pleased to say that everything is going according to plan. We will continue to test voice, fax, data and other GSM services in various geographic locations within Thuraya's expansive coverage area over the next several months."

The $960 million Thuraya contract was signed on Sept. 11, 1997. It included the manufacture of two high-power GEM satellites, launch of the first spacecraft, insurance, the primary gateway, and user handsets. The second satellite is a ground spare, and there is an option for a third. The Thuraya primary gateway includes a collocated network operations center, communications gateway, and satellite control facility in the United Arab Emirates. The dual-mode, GEM/GSM mobile phones, network operations center, and communications gateway are provided by Hughes Network Systems.

Thuraya-1 is among the most powerful satellites orbited to date, with 13.5 kilowatts. To dissipate the heat generated by such power, the satellite carries two large (80-square-foot/7.4-square-meter) radiator panels, which have also been successfully deployed.

BSS is the world's leading manufacturer of commercial communications satellites. The company was formed in October 2000 when Boeing acquired the Hughes Electronics satellite manufacturing businesses, which included Hughes Space and Communications Company, Hughes Electron Dynamics, Spectrolab Inc., and Hughes Electronics' 50 percent share of HRL Laboratories.

The Boeing Company, with headquarters in Seattle, is the largest aerospace company in the world and the United States' leading exporter. It is the world's largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft, and the largest NASA contractor.

The company's capabilities in aerospace also include rotorcraft, electronic and defense systems, missiles, rocket engines, launch vehicles, and advanced information and communication systems. The company has an extensive global reach with customers in 145 countries and manufacturing operations throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.