ViaSat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg: The cause of the defects on two ViaSat-2 Ka-band antennas remains a mystery. Credit: NAB Youtube video

WASHINGTON — ViaSat Inc. Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg said the sequence of events that led to defects in two of the four Ka-band antennas on the ViaSat-2 satellite remains a mystery.

While ViaSat has estimated a 13% drop in capacity, the satellite’s performance is strong enough that the company’s business model for it has not been modified. ViaSat-2 is now in commercial service. Dankberg discussed this issue March 13 at the Satellite 2018 conference in Washington.

How is it that two Harris Corp.-built, 5-meter-diameter antennas ended up in a deformed state on deployment of the Boeing-built ViaSat 2?

First off I would say at this point it is not fair to pin it on anybody, and we are not pinning it on anybody. Boeing is the prime on the satellite and we don’t talk about their subcontractors.

One part of this is that it is a real mystery. We have a pretty good idea of the problem and how it got in there. We can tell what the [coverage] patterns are on the ground, and we think that by working backwards we know what the antenna configuration is. But what could have been done to get the antennas in that configuration? That is a mystery.

We just don’t know.

You’re saying it’s not easy to say stop the nominal deployment sequence and get to the same effect you are seeing — a not-fully deployed antenna?

Correct. We will learn more. Even the exact configuration they are in, we’ll get more data on the ground that will confirm what those patterns are. But it will take some time, we’ll need a lot more terminals out there.

What about reversing the process and then redeploying the antennas?

We’re not sure that that’s appropriate. It certainly might be. One of the things we’ve said is that if you look at the situation the satellite’s in, its a very good satellite. We would hate to make it worse trying to make it better without really knowing what the situation.

The Hippocratic Oath.

Yes. First do no harm. I am an engineer and I want to know and understand what happened, how did it get in that configuration. It’s very weird and it’s unfair to pin it on anyone. Boeing has done really good work with us. It’s certainly possible that, on the antennas, everything went fine and then something went wrong. We wouldn’t rule that out.

You mean that the deployment was nominal and then something happened almost immediately?

Well now we’re going to go down a bunch of trails. It’s just really not clear that whoever made the antennas did anything wrong.

Is it fair to say that as time goes on and ViaSat-2 operations expand that it becomes less advisable for you to do anything in terms of reversing deployment?

Not necessarily. If we can figure out exactly what the configuration is, then there may be things to do. We are just in an information-gathering mode now. It’s too soon to say anything definitive.

But you’ll need to file an insurance claim before you have all the answers.

We’re doing the best we can to show the configuration and say: If it was like this, what would you infer from that, here are the measurements we’ve taken. We are going to be as straight up and transparent as we can. We are going to want to buy insurance for future satellites and they are going to want to sell us more insurance on future satellites. It’s going to take a few more measurements and that’s what we’re working on.

And all is OK beside that on ViaSat-2?

Yes, it is working well and it’s pretty exciting.