Once you’ve put a satellite into space, that’s normally kind if it. There’s not usually a lot of replanning once your technology is in orbit, meaning that if you want to change something like the broadcast frequency, you’re stuck. That’s the reason these transforming satellites exist.

The Quantum programme is a European space project to make communications satellites smarter and cheaper — rather than building bespoke vehicles for every project, Quantum wants to standardize the majority of the components, and make it easy re-role the satellites in orbit.

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That’s possible because of the use of flat, phase d-array antennas that can electronically alter their state, without needing any hardware changes. It opens up the possibility for a satellite to hop between missions, broadcasting cell networks one day, and dodgy pay-per-view TV channels the next.

That would be a game-changer for all sorts of reasons. You open the possibilities of companies renting satellites for short periods, for one-off missions, and hopefully let the satellite change with the times, and not become technologically redundant. And, because the modular design lets the satellites be manufactured en masse, costs should (theoretically) fall dramatically.

The first Quantum satellite is set to be delivered in 2018 to serve European mobility and data markets. Space never looked so economically efficient.

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[ESA]


Contact the author at chris@gizmodo.com.

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