The Satellite Industry During The COVID-19 Pandemic

As the world endures an unprecedented crisis, satellites are providing a host of communications, business continuity, broadcast, navigation, remote imaging and other vital services critical to public health and safety and community well-being

America’s commercial satellite industry is playing a broad and vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Satellites are providing a host of voice, data and broadcast communications solutions along with navigation, earth observation and other unique services vital for businesses, government customers and consumers.

Communication Satellites – Satellite communications including internet and broadband services are helping keep people in remote and underserved regions connected with their teachers, doctors, employers, customers, friends and families. Communications satellites are providing newly deployed field hospitals with critical services during the pandemic.  They also provide much needed business continuity communications to self-serve gas stations and other retailers for point of sale (POS) credit/debit card authorizations and inventory management.  Broadcast communications satellites deliver entertainment but they also provide homebound Americans as well as government health care officials with critically important live pandemic news updates from around the world.

Global Positioning Satellites – GPS satellites are not only providing vital navigation services to the thousands of truck drivers working to help  maintain America’s critical supply chains for food, manufacturing and medical supplies – but GPS timing services also help power America’s millions of cellular phones and remote electronic financial services.

Remote sensing and imaging satellites – Remote sensing and imaging satellites are providing health care officials and other users with comparison imagery – vital tools in helping monitor the effectiveness of “stay at home” and other social distancing initiatives.  Earth observation satellites also provide a safe and remote method to collect global onsite information without the need to leave home or an office to go onsite.

Collectively, satellites are providing critical services to governments, businesses and consumers.  The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) named satellite operations as an essential part of functioning critical infrastructure that is imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being.

SIA member companies are taking actions to ensure delivery of critical satellite services, but they are also prioritizing the health and safety of their employees, customers and their communities.  See below for just some of the initiatives being taken by members of the satellite industry.

AT&T In response to the outbreak, AT&T has announced a number of initiatives including expanded video content for its DIRECTV customers.  “Movies and television have always been a welcome escape in difficult times. With many people staying at home, we’re giving our video customers additional content at no cost during this time.  For more details regarding the expanded content as well as ways to access it, please click on the AT&T link above.

Company-wide initiatives – “As our company responds to COVID-19, the health and safety of our employees and customers remains our top priority. The work we do is critical to millions of people and companies around the world, and we’re committed to being there when our customers and colleagues need us most.  To learn more about our COVID-19 support efforts for first responders, our employees and our customers, click here.”

BLUE ORIGIN To help the shortage of face shields needed for frontline healthcare workers combating the COVID-19 crisis across the country, Blue Origin announced, “We’ve dedicated 25 of our additive manufacturing machines to 3D print visors used for face shields. Our machines are running 24 hours per day, seven days per week. We are producing daily shipments of the visors to our supply partner, Stratasys, who is distributing them to hospitals in need around the country.  This initiative started organically within Blue as our engineers and machinists were looking for ways to help. The Blue Origin team members currently supporting this effort work on our BE-4 engine development and are volunteering their time for this endeavor.”

As more schools around the country shift to online learning amidst the COVID-19 crisis, Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future is seeking to build community during this isolated time at home by encouraging students, educators and parents to draw postcards answering the question: “What would you build in space that could help Earth?” The postcards will be flown to space on an upcoming flight of Blue Origin’s fully reusable New Shepard rocket, then sent back to the participating students.   Click on the BLUE ORIGIN link above for more details.

BOEING  On Apr 10th, the Company announced it had delivered the first set of 3D-printed face shields to support healthcare professionals working to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) accepted the initial shipment of 2,300 face shields this morning. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will deliver the shields to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas, which has been established as an alternate care site to treat patients with COVID-19.  Boeing is set to produce thousands more face shields per week, gradually increasing production output to meet the growing need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the United States. Face shield production and donations are part of a larger Boeing effort to leverage company and employee resources to aid with COVID-19 recovery and relief efforts. To date, the company has donated tens of thousands of units of PPE – including face masks, goggles, gloves, safety glasses and protective bodysuits – to support healthcare professionals battling COVID-19 in some of the hardest-hit locations in the United States.

Boeing is providing airlift capabilities, including the use of the Boeing Dreamlifter, one of the largest cargo carriers in the world, to help transport critical and urgently needed supplies to healthcare professionals. And to date, Boeing has donated tens of thousands of masks, gloves and other equipment to hospitals in need. The Company continues to analyze additional applications of its engineering, manufacturing and logistics expertise to help the cause.”  See the Company’s COVID-19 response page at the BOEING link above for more details.

On May 11th, Boeing announced it had completed another set of COVID-19 airlift missions, deploying three Dreamlifter aircraft to transport more than 150,000 protective eye goggles and face shields from China to the United States. Boeing worked in partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to deliver the personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline health care professionals in the MUSC system.”Today’s delivery puts essential personal protective equipment in the hands of South Carolina’s frontline health care professionals and helps MUSC further support the community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun. “I am incredibly proud of our Boeing team members throughout the world for their work to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and thankful for our government and industry partners that have joined us in the pandemic response.”  The MUSC Health team will use the PPE as they support the revitalization of the economy and ramp-up COVID-19 community outreach efforts, including diagnostic testing and antibody testing, across South Carolina. MUSC Health, under the guidance of the South Carolina Legislature and in partnership with South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), has established mobile screening and collection sites in rural and underserved areas.

HAWKEYE 360 On Apr 17th, Hawkeye 360 posted the following.  “HawkEye 360’s SEAker® analysis shows activity around Wuhan’s biggest and busiest cargo port Yangluo Port Area has been trending ~40% of historical normal activity over the past two weeks and is barely unchanged since the official reopening of the city on April 8.  On January 23, 2020, the Chinese government mandated a lockdown throughout the city of Wuhan. This order was lifted on April 8, 2020. During this lockdown, the city and its economy, came to a virtual standstill. HawkEye 360 analysis of this time period shows a dramatic drop of 85-90% of average vessel activity in the Yangluo Port area.  HawkEye 360 utilized its SEAker® product to analyze changes in patterns of vessel behavior in and adjacent to Yangluo over a four-month period. Yangluo Port and the surrounding Wuhan New Port complex is located along the Yangtze River and is the primary cargo center for the Wuhan region.”

HUGHES  Company announced the following commitment.  “At Hughes, we are committed to connecting people and enterprises around the world, and we know that now, in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, staying connected is more important than ever. To help ensure we can continue to meet our customers’ needs, we are protecting the health and well-being of our employees and partners with measures such as teleworking, restricting visitors to our facilities, and social distancing for essential staff who must come into our offices or customers’ facilities to perform their jobs. We are working with our local field service partners around the world to establish contingency plans for installing and servicing our customers’ networks. Across our company and around the world, we continue to re-evaluate our mitigation measures and business continuity plans to keep our customers connected.”  To view the entire statement, please click on the HUGHES link above.

On May 6th, Hughes provided some examples of how the Company’s HughesNet satellite broadband service is being utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Tatums, OK – Providing HughesNet for a community hub for students to get online for schooling during COVID-19 outbreak. The town is rural with a population of about 150 people and has 30 students that travel to the town of Fox, OK for schooling. Only two homes in the town have access to the internet and the nearest library is 32 miles away.
  • Kayenta, AZ – Providing HughesNet and TV programming to Kayenta Health Center that is serving as housing for Team Rubicon Incident Management staff that is overseeing a medical quarantine site for the local community. The service is located at a four-building campus.
  • Ft. Bragg, NC – Providing satellite Internet access at a quarantine camp for military members who must quarantine for 2 weeks upon return from deployment. The service is used for “morale, welfare and recreation” (MWR) – helping these returning service members connect with family and friends virtually while they are isolated.
  • Las Vegas, NM – Providing HughesNet for students to get online who otherwise would have no access to the Internet. These students are homeless and staying with community members during the pandemic. HughesNet makes it possible for them to stay connected with their classmates and teachers and continue learning during this disruptive time.
  • Additionally, Hughes is participating in the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected initiative and has introduced a new service – Hughes SatCell Connect – to deploy cellular connectivity on-demand to sites such as remote hospitals.
  • Hughes also provided free additional bandwidth to rural branches in India to enable daily cash withdrawal to 250+ mn under-privileged rural citizens.

On May 20th, Hughes posted a message from Pradman Kaul, President of Hughes Network Systems titled:  When Staying Connected Matters Most – Supporting Public Health Needs Around the World.  “As a global connectivity provider, Hughes delivers solutions that meet a range of needs – commerce, social services, entertainment, education and more. And while for decades our technology and services have been used also to support healthcare, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has amplified the many ways our services enhance public health around the world.  HughesNet, our flagship satellite Internet service, provides essential Internet access for nearly 1.5 million subscribers across the Americas – many of whom live in rural areas. With a reliable, affordable home Internet connection, our customers are able to telework and attend school from home during the pandemic. In addition, HughesNet service helps our customers stay abreast of the latest government information and best practices about the coronavirus, participate in telehealth sessions to avoid unnecessary travel, and stay connected to friends and family whom they cannot visit in person…  We are proud of the many ways Hughes supports public health around the world. As a designated ‘essential’ business, our team is working hard to keep our customers everywhere connected. While we weather the current challenge together, our team continues to install new customers, service existing ones and manage the networks that connect people and enterprises to the information and resources they need now, more than ever.”  Please click HERE for further details and a complete copy of the posting.

INTELSAT Intelsat has taken numerous steps to protect the health and safety of its employees and their families, and to prevent any disruption to its customers’ operations. An internal Intelsat COVID-19 Task Force, which includes company medical staff, meets daily to ensure business continuity and preventative safety measures are in place and working effectively. With the world’s largest and most advanced satellite fleet and connectivity infrastructure, Intelsat is helping customers quickly scale their existing networks with temporary, no-cost capacity, or quickly deploy entirely new networks to meet increased end-customer demand. In addition, Intelsat is leveraging its inventory of portable, partner satellite terminals to provide temporary, mobile satellite-connectivity solutions to customers with critical public health and safety needs. Intelsat’s core media business is also helping the company’s broadcast customers bring important coronavirus news and public health information to people around the world and making it easy and cost-effective for TV reporters to broadcast news from their homes.

On May 5th, Intelsat posted the following blog entry titled “Intelsat CEO on Connectivity Best Practices during COVID-19 and Beyond. “Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler recently spoke about broadband connectivity best practices in the time of Covid-19 during a virtual event hosted by the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ specialized agency for Internet and Communications Technology.

During “Connectivity: Best Practices,” the second event in ITU’s thought leadership webinar series, Digital Cooperation During COVID19 and Beyond, Spengler offered three of his observations during this crisis:

  1. Internet and telecommunications connectivity are essential, and the gap between those who have robust networks and those who don’t has never been more pronounced. As a result, we need to redouble efforts between government, regulators and industry to close this connectivity gap.
  2. We are learning in real-time that the world – and our telecommunications networks – aren’t  prepared for a crisis of this type. While connectivity services have expanded dramatically around the world, they haven’t expanded as much as they need to. We need to better prepare for crises like COVID-19, ensuring networks are properly sized for a surge in demand, and that critical equipment is available for rapid deployment. Regulators and governments can also be ready to accelerate administrative action in support of rapid deployments.
  3. Some aspects of life are likely to permanently change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have gained new insights into how we interact with each other, how we work together and how we educate our children. Technology exists today to facilitate these new ways of interacting and educating, but it’s not yet widespread enough, and not always optimal. We have the technology to close the connectivity gap, we just need the will to work together and put in place the projects and the funding to make it happen. Industry and government also need the flexibility and agility to embrace new technologies and new approaches, which would ultimately have a tremendous impact toward closing the education gap, for example, around the world.

During the webinar, Spengler said he sees positive signs in our post-pandemic future.  “We will learn new things from this experience,” he said. “I’m optimistic that it will be a catalyst for innovation [and] new ways to address challenges, including to close the broadband connectivity gap around the world.”  For more details please click on the link HERE.

LOCKHEED MARTIN Lockheed Martin has announced that during the COVD-19 pandemic, the Company would “be guided by and operate with three clear priorities. First, we will continue to protect the health and safety of our men and women on the job and their families. Second, we will continue to perform and deliver for our customers because what they do for our national security, global communications, and infrastructure is critical to our nation and our allies. Third, we will do our part to use our know-how, resources, and leadership as a company to assist our communities and our country during this period of national crisis.”  The Company announced it would take numerous steps as an initial contribution to the national COVID-19 relief and recovery effort including advancing millions of dollars to its supply chain partners, donating funds to non-profit organizations involved in pandemic assistance, donating use of its corporate aircraft, vehicles and activating its employee and retiree disaster relief fund.  Read the full list of initiatives at the LOCKHEED MARTIN link above.

PLANET On Apr 14th, Planet posted the following.  “In a world turned upside-down by the global COVID-19 pandemic, we at Planet are regularly asked how daily satellite monitoring of the Earth might be helpful. We’d like to share some perspective with you about the role satellite imagery and analytics can play in responding to disease outbreaks in general, and to the current pandemic in particular, as well as some of what Planet will be doing to help in the months to come.  Read more at the PLANET link above.

Staff members are working from home in full force, including the operational teams needed to maintain stable satellite operations. All spacecraft management systems are designed to be operated remotely, so our ability to provide imagery products and services to our customers will continue without interruption.  We are implementing mitigation plans for any challenges that may arise in manufacturing or from delays in satellite launches, and are fully prepared to continue business despite economic impacts that may occur as a result of COVID-19.  We will keep our customers and partners notified of any changes as the situation evolves.”

SES On Apr 21st, SES announced residents, businesses, schools, healthcare clinics and other organisations in parts of Alaska could access city-wide WiFi and broadband services as always despite increased network demand due to the recent “Stay at Home” rule thanks to OptimERA Inc., significantly expanding its network capacity with SES Networks. The Alaskan Internet Service Provider (ISP) leveraged SES’s NSS-9 satellite increased C-band capacity and ramped up its networks within days, underscoring the agility of SES’s satellite services to rapidly address dynamic connectivity needs nearly anywhere in the world.  OptimERA serves the city of Unalaska and its surrounding towns and islands, including world-famous Dutch Harbor, the largest fishing port in the United States. Located in the Aleutian Islands, Unalaska has the largest full-time resident population in Southwest Alaska as well as many seasonal and part-time residents due to the fishing industry. OptimERA started working with SES Networks in 2017 to provide backbone capacity so the ISP could serve the residents and businesses of this remote location that is 800 miles from the nearest fibre-based network.  For more details, please click on the SES link above and for background information regarding OPtimERA, please click HERE.

SPIRE Spire recently posted a message from Spire CEO Peter Platzer concerning the current COVID-19 outbreak.  To view the video, please visit the company website by clicking on the SPIRE link above.

VIASAT Viasat has announced its commitment to meet the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge. Viasat will work with its residential and small business customers to keep them connected, lessening potential health and economic impacts associated with the coronavirus.  In alignment with the FCC’s request to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Viasat pledges for the next 60 days to: (1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic; (2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and (3) open its business Wi-Fi hotspots, in conjunction with partners. In addition, Viasat is working hard to optimize its network for maximum uptime and speed, as well as prioritized critical business and education applications to keep customers connected—now more than ever. Read more details about Viasat’s COVID-19 response at the VIASAT link above.

On Apr 28th, Viasat Inc. (NASDAQ: VSAT) announced it would extend its commitment to keep residential and small business customers connected to the internet during the COVID-19 crisis.  Through June 30, Viasat will extend its FCC’s Keep America Connected Initiative pledge to: not terminate internet service to any residential or small business customer because of an inability to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic; waive internet late fees that any residential or small business customer incurs because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and keep open its business internet Wi-Fi hotspots, in conjunction with partners, located primarily in small businesses, state parks and campground locations.  Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO of Viasat commented, “We’re committed to do our part to support our customers during this difficult time. By extending our pledge, we can alleviate customers’ worries about losing essential services, like the internet, and ensure our customers can continue to work, learn and stay on top of daily life from home.”  For more information on Viasat’s COVID-19 response, please visit the blog site: HERE.