Press Release

Boeing and IBM Set New Record With World’s Most Powerful Satellite Digital Communications Processor

By SpaceRef Editor
July 11, 2001
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Boeing Satellite Systems (BSS), a unit of The Boeing Company, and IBM today announced they have created the
world’s most powerful satellite-based digital signal processor,
designed to make space-borne wireless communications available to a
wide audience of users.

This digital signal processor is the heart of the Thuraya
satellite, a powerful Boeing-built GEO-Mobile (GEM) spacecraft that
was launched in October 2000 for Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications
Co. Ltd., based in the United Arab Emirates. The digital signal
processor provides the satellite with more computing power than 3,000
Pentium III-based computers, enabling the spacecraft to handle up to
tens of thousands of phone calls simultaneously.

Space-based wireless systems offer a new means of connectivity for
areas of the world where telephone lines and other infrastructure for
traditional communications are less developed or don’t exist. Boeing
is tapping IBM’s advanced custom integrated circuit technologies to
improve the performance, reliability and cost of satellite-based
communications, vastly improving the performance of previous digital
satellite systems.

“We are extremely proud of our digital signal processing
expertise,” said Randy Brinkley, president of Boeing Satellite
Systems. “The digital signal processor aboard the Thuraya satellite is
five times more capable than any previous Boeing digital processor. We
are proving that by advancing the state-of-the-art in satellite
communications technology, we can provide viable alternatives to
land-based communications systems.”

Thuraya’s chief executive Yousuf Al Sayed added: “We are pleased
to be powering our system using such advanced processing technology.
The digital signal processor is one example of how Thuraya has
incorporated the most powerful technological options available today
toward the creation of a truly pioneering telecom initiative.”

Key to the highly flexible digital processor is its high density
Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) chip technology.
Designed by BSS and built by IBM, Thuraya satellite ASICs contain up
to 3.8 million gates (circuits) each and represent the first
adaptation of commercial ASIC technology to very large-scale digital
satellite payloads. In a 17-month period, Boeing and IBM jointly
designed, built, and delivered nine multimillion-gate ASICs with
100-percent first-pass success rate, enabling delivery of flight units
just 24 months after the official start of design.

“We’re constantly refining our custom chip technology for higher
performance, lower power and faster time-to-market, with improved
costs,” said David Balkin, director of ASIC and Electronic Design and
Automation development, IBM Microelectronics Division. “Our work with
Boeing is another example of the wide range of applications that can
benefit as a result. IBM chip technology has become a key component in
extending the reach of the communications infrastructure.”

On November 12, 2000, Boeing engineers brought the powerful
Thuraya digital signal processor online for service, placing phone
calls only three days after orbital insertion of the spacecraft at 44
degrees East longitude. The satellite has since completed in-orbit
test and evaluation, allowing Thuraya to begin launching commercial
service to more than 20 countries in July. The Thuraya satellite
communication system serves the Middle East, North and Central Africa,
Europe, the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia with medium-bandwidth
data exchange and voice conversations using compact cellular telephone

The satellite’s digital communications processor incorporates
variable-bandwidth channel capability, on-board circuit switching for
more than 25,000 full duplex circuits, and agile transmit/receive
digital beam forming for more than 300 projected cell sites. Using the
satellite’s built-in on-orbit test capability, engineers confirmed
perfect performance of this critical commercial digital signal
processing technology in record time.

Incorporating BSS’ third-generation very large-scale digital
processing technology, the Thuraya payload is one of more than 28
major digital communication systems delivered by BSS in the last eight
years. Together, these systems contain more than 43,000 ASICs of 50
major types that represent a chain of design successes unparalleled in
the satellite industry.

The Boeing regional digital voice and data communications systems
are now available on short schedules as “off-the-shelf” catalog items
from the space-proven GEM product line. A fourth-generation BSS
digital signal processor is currently in production for a Boeing 702
Spaceway broadband satellite scheduled for launch in late 2002. That
payload is based on even more advanced IBM copper ASIC technology with
more than 8 million gates per chip.

About Thuraya

Thuraya is a leading regional mobile satellite telecommunications
company. Established in April 1997 in the UAE as a private joint stock
company, Thuraya has a shareholder base made up of 18 prominent
telecommunications operators and investment houses. Thuraya is a US $1
billion mobile satellite telecommunications project that will serve
about 100 nations in Europe, Africa and Asia. Besides its integrated
satellite-GSM handsets, Thuraya’s product offerings include a
vehicular adapter, a home docking unit for indoor use and a fleet
management system. For more information, visit Thuraya on the web at

About Boeing Satellite Systems

BSS is the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial
communications satellites, and is also a major provider of space
systems, satellites, and payloads for national defense, science and
environmental applications.

The Boeing Company, headquartered in Seattle, is the largest
aerospace company in the world and the United States’ leading
exporter. It is the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial
jetliners and military aircraft, and the largest NASA contractor. The
company’s capabilities in aerospace also include rotorcraft,
electronic and defense systems, missiles, rocket engines, launch
vehicles, and advanced information and communication systems. The
company has an extensive global reach with customers in 145 countries
and manufacturing operations throughout the United States, Canada and

About IBM

As the number one supplier of ASIC (custom, “application-specific
integrated circuit”) chips worldwide, IBM has the design know-how to
combine more circuitry on a single chip than anyone. IBM also has a
unique collection of technologies to manufacture the smallest, densest
circuits in the industry, using copper wires, silicon-on-insulator
(SOI) transistors and improved “low-k” dielectric insulation.

SpaceRef staff editor.