By Garrett Hill, CEO, X2nSat, Inc.
You may have heard the announcement recently about the new satellite gateway – industry slang is “teleport” – that X2nSat will be building at Spaceport America some time in the next 12 months or so. Located in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto Desert (intriguingly named by Spanish conquistadors centuries ago), Spaceport America is the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world, made famous by its two largest tenants – Virgin Galactic and SpaceX.
If you missed the media coverage, we’ve signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the long-term lease of land and access to infrastructure as the first VSAT solution provider within Spaceport America’s new satellite gateway ground station development.
Since we made our plans public, the energy and excitement pulsing through our corporation is palpable. You would think that we were offering our employees a chance to go on a suborbital flight into outer space with our new neighbors, Virgin Galactic; but alas, the price tag for that is still a bit out of reach for our benefits package. If any of the several hundred $250,000 ticket-holders (Lady Gaga? Tom Hanks?) out there lose their nerve and would like a proxy to take their spot on SpaceShipTwo, I’m sure we can find a volunteer amongst our ranks.
When I was 12 years old, I was completely drawn into the glamorized tale of the birth of America’s space program as told through the eyes of the original seven Mercury astronauts in one of my favorite films of all time, 1983’s “The Right Stuff.” These swaggering gentlemen piloted manned space flights for NASA in the early 1960s, and the nation idealized and loved these first astronauts and their pursuit of innovation and exploration. “The Right Stuff” had a lot to do with why I decided to become a recreational pilot as an adult.
And so it’s personally exciting to me to align my business with a tangential industry that celebrates our nation’s collective romanticization of space travel. But from a purely business standpoint, my deepest thoughts regarding this project may very well be an enigma to my contemporaries. Industry friends have asked me why building a new satellite gateway in the middle of a desert is such a priority. Other than the obvious benefits of associating the X2nSat brand with that of Spaceport America’s growing reputation for leading-edge space innovation and exploration, what do I hope to achieve? After all, satellite gateways aren’t exactly unique; they’ve been built in various locations all over the United States for the past 35 years.
Actually, the number of commercial satellite gateways in existence has been decreasing, overall. I don’t have any hard numbers at my fingertips, but my educated guess is that the number of these facilities in existence is less than half of what it was just 15 years ago. Why is this, you may ask? My answer: consolidation and technology.
The VSAT segment in which X2nSat participates has been consolidating for years. The boom years were 1998 to 2005. Since then, many companies have closed or been part of the consolidation. So far, X2nSat has been on the buying side of that consolidation. The dozen or so network operators like us that exist in the U.S. are necessarily changing to meet the needs of our customer bases and, therefore, constantly growing. It takes time, energy and forethought to implement the changes that lead to this growth, and we maintain a rolling 10-year plan that serves as our roadmap to success.
The other side of the coin is that new technologies are being developed. In the past decade, we’ve seen the maturity of several telecommunications technologies, the integration of which requires change. On the terrestrial side, we’ve seen cellular 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE increase capacity and speed. On the satellite side, we’ve seen improvements and developments in Ku band, Ka band, DVB-S2, ACM, & flat-panel satellite antennae. As these standards have grown in popularity, they have created an industry paradigm shift in customers’ expectations. There is a real and increasing benefit to both companies and customers when these businesses consolidate and scale up to offer the latest and greatest.
There is some really cool stuff on the horizon for the satellite industry. New features, faster speeds, lower costs, more reliability … lots of good stuff. A significant part of my job as CEO of X2nSat is to wade through this sea of big ideas and new concepts to determine what we believe our customers will want. It’s not just the technologies that need to be considered, but the business plans behind them. After all, money matters. Our customers will expect a lot of value, and, just like any business, we will need to make a profit.
As we stated in our joint media release with Spaceport America, we chose to partner with them because we’re passionate about building the infrastructure for the next generation of satellite communications. This location in the dry, hot desert has everything we need to do that – stable weather, a southern latitude, and extremely low horizons in all directions, just to name a few. And it doesn’t hurt that we get to participate, indirectly, with the glamour and breathlessness of the next generation of human spaceflight; the thrill of which we haven’t seen here in North America since the 1960s.
And so this new project at Spaceport America is just one of many strategic steps in X2nSat’s 10-year business plan. This multi-million dollar investment is essential to our growth. In order to make use of the newest satellite networks being created, we need a gateway that has been designed to use them. The older designs in the legacy locations just won’t work as well. To get the most out of the new systems, we need the best gateway. This will be it. The future. And we think we just might have the right stuff.
TOP PHOTO CREDIT: Spaceport America in New Mexico. Image courtesy of Spaceport America. INSET PHOTO CREDIT: The Mercury Seven, who were depicted in the film “The Right Stuff.” Image courtesy of NASA.