A large network of lines and connecting various dots over top of a glowing earth in orbit. Image: Rivada Space Network

Rivada looks to change the game in inflight connectivity


Rivada Space Networks, which aims to launch an inter-satellite laser linked Ka-band LEO network that establishes end-to-end connections without gateways, is positioning its unique satcom service as being particularly well suited for delivering a new standard in satellite-powered inflight connectivity.

Indeed, the Munich-headquartered company reckons that “customers are going to blame us for making business class a true business class. That means they now have to work on long haul flights because they have direct, low-latency access to their business ERP and CRM applications,” Rivada director business development Thomas Laurent told Runway Girl Network at the SATELLITE 2023 conference and exhibition in Washington DC.

The firm is eyeing a 600-satellite network: a first-generation system of 300 satellites is expected to provide full service and global coverage including over the poles by 2026, followed two years later by a second-generation system of 300 satellites.

During the week of SATELLITE 2023, Rivada announced that Terran Orbital will manufacture 300 satellites, and that Google spinout Aalyria’s Spacetime platform will orchestrate the network for Rivada’s planned LEO constellation.

Describing some of Rivada’s key differentiators, company chief commercial officer Ronald Van Der Breggen told RGN at the show: “[A]s much as lasers are defining our architecture in terms of how everything is connected, what ultimately is most important is that we were running a network protocol over these lasers.

“If you have computers that are cable connected to a network, it’s ultimately most important what software are you running over these cables. This defines the capabilities that you have with these systems. This is not too dissimilar. We’re basically building a network in space for which, yes, we use these lasers, but we’re running an MPLS protocol over them. And certainly for those that come from the terrestrial world, they intuitively get the fact that once you plug in to one node of our network, i.e., a satellite, you basically can go anywhere you like — which is very different from what all the others out there are doing, which is to either directly go to a gateway on the ground, or use the laser to extend the reach a little bit. But down to the ground they go, as fast as possible! We’re not doing that. We’re keeping the traffic in the constellation for as long as we can.”

So, what does this mean for commercial aviation?

Van Der Breggen explained,

[F]or aviation the direct consequence would be that if you leave New York, and you are on a certain IP address, you can fly all the way down to Japan, crossing multiple countries and jurisdictions, but you keep the same IP address all the way from where you originate to where you land. Very different from any other aero service offering that will, while you’re hopping from satellite to satellite and ground station to ground station, change your IP address as a result.

I think everybody’s who’s hopped on a Skype call and then decided to walk the dog – I know I have – suffered from the call being dropped once you get outside and the phone switched from Wi-Fi to cellular. Hopefully everything reconnects once you cross the street. But, more often than not you’ve got to start all over again. With Rivada you have a fluency in the connectivity as a result of being on one network rather than being on a link that connects in to somewhere and then if the plane moves from place to place, links break and new ones need to be set up with all sorts of consequences.

This architecture has obvious implications for the airline passenger experience. “It’s about the ability of business professionals wanting to run their corporate applications when they’re on board. They want to log into a system where they can, let’s say do service provisioning for their customers, and not be kicked out every so often,” said Van Der Breggen.

But RGN also asked about cockpit communications and safety services. After all, management said Rivada offers “committed information rate (CIR) bandwidth with compelling Service Level Agreements (SLAs)”.

Laurent reckons that the flight deck realm “would be a perfect match. It’s crucial to be able to serve the harsh conditions that have lots of requirements, so we can serve that.”

According to SpaceNews, Rivada has secured the launches and financing it needs to deploy 300 satellites by a mid-2026 regulatory deadline.

“[W]e’re going to do a demonstrator mission consisting of four satellites and the target for that will be towards the end of 2024. We’re going to use two orbital planes, two satellites on each plane with the objective of demonstrating our services to our customers,” Rivada business development manager Joe Apa told RGN at SATELLITE 2023.


Regarding the Aalyria deal, Rivada lead architect ground segment Jean-Cristian Georgeon explained: “So, the SpaceTime network from Aalyria is the piece of software that really orchestrates the service we are offering. So, we have a very flexible and very configurable network. All the parts can be completely redefined over time when they are needed for the different customer.

“We also have access to a lot of different satellites at any time. We are a full mesh network in the sky and to orchestrate all that, to take the best decision at any moment for any type of service, we need very powerful software that is able to take the decision in real time. And that’s exactly where Aalyria is coming in. They have very advanced software which can deliver the best capability at any point of time for a huge amount of users, or a huge amount of different satellites. And that’s what we are doing with them, to validate that we can really achieve the best type of service to our customer at any point of time and they’re using the full flexibility of our network.”

Interestingly, at a time when Intelsat, Inmarsat, Viasat and SpaceX are going direct in aero, Rivada is embracing a B2B/reseller partnership approach, and intends to tap into the expertise of integrators and aero ISPs (an approach incidentally being pursued by OneWeb). This also incentivizes partners to throw some R&D into developing products around the service.

“If you look back in history, satellite operators traditionally started off just by managing the network, just by looking after the technology to enable the service and it was the reseller that had the customer relationship and that got distorted over time for various reasons. And it’s quite common now where you have a satellite operator being direct and being indirect, which does and can add confusion to the market, and additional competitive pressures,” said Apa.

Perhaps readers don’t need to look very far in aero for an example, given the narrative presently unfolding around Inmarsat value added reseller SITA’s decision to exit cabin connectivity … as Inmarsat forges direct relationships with airlines.

But Apa did not single out Inmarsat, noting: “There are examples everywhere. And you can see it with other satellite operators too and the customer can either take advantage of that, and at times they do, or in a worst-case scenario, they get very confused by it. Where am I going for my support? And I think we’re very clear on what our role is, and it is the network, it’s delivering to the nth degree to ensure the highest quality of service and this is where I think our role is more incumbent — ensuring that we’ve absolutely got the right partners, and the right number of partners that are experts in their fields. And we have a strong awareness of who is well placed in the aero world.”

Rivada has already entered early conversations with aero ISPs, with Apa confirming: “We’ve reached out to a few; we’re having those discussions. And they’ve reached out to us.”

For years, commercial aviation has been eager to see Telesat’s Lightspeed come to fruition. Featuring optical inter-satellite links from the onset, the Ka-band LEO constellation is expected to provide global, mesh coverage and as such, is seen as a compelling option for inflight connectivity. Securing full funding for the project has taken longer than expected, leading to delays, though Telesat senior manager, technical product management Todd Hill recently explained during the APEX TECH show in Los Angeles that the firm is very conservative and won’t start until it has 100% of the financing secured.

“Now it is very true that Telesat has been at it since like 2016 and so the market is eagerly awaiting what they will be doing at what time. So, announcements are overdue I would say. In that sense, we were happily surprised that by working hard the last year, we’ve come to a point where Telesat is not at today. So, I think that’s a major achievement and we’re very, very proud of that. But it’s expected that they’ll be out there as well with a constellation,” said Van Der Breggen.

Agreeing that IFC stakeholders are looking forward to Telesat, he later added: “But luckily, we’re here so they [aero ISPs] have prepared their conversations with Telesat, and we now benefit from that.”

Demand will drive the amount of capacity that Rivada will dedicate to the aero market. “We are going after government services, we’re going after enterprise services, we’re going after media, we are going after gaming. So, at the end of the day, it’s all about yield management, you have to make the smart decisions for your fleet for your bottom line, basically. So, everything we say will be a prediction of where we think demand will end up and we don’t know yet,” said Van Der Breggen.

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Featured image credited to Rivada Space Networks