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Geostationary satellite orders bouncing back

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Satellite tv for pc builders booked extra industrial orders in 2019 than the prior two years mixed, however the trade stays in flux

This text initially appeared within the Jan. 20, 2020 difficulty of SpaceNews journal.

Producers are hopeful that 2019 marked the start of a turnaround for geostationary satellite tv for pc orders, although their market stays fraught with uncertainty.

After reserving simply 14 orders in 2017 and 2018 mixed, satellite tv for pc producers reported 2019 orders for 15 commercially competed geostationary communications spacecraft and two army comsats awarded with out open bidding.

Whereas complete industrial GEO satellite tv for pc orders in 2019 greater than doubled what satellite tv for pc operators ordered in every of the prior two years, the vary of spacecraft ordered grew as properly.

Satellites ordered in 2019 ranged from the 350-kilogram small GEO satellite tv for pc Astranis booked in January, to the heavyweight 6,500-kilogram very high-throughput ViaSat-Three Asia-Pacific satellite tv for pc that Boeing booked across the similar time.

In Could, Airbus Defence and House introduced it will construct three roughly Three,000-kilogram small GEO satellites for Inmarsat based mostly on its new OneSat platform. The satellites are sufficiently small that each one three may launch on a single heavy-lift rocket, such because the Ariane 64, whereas supporting hundreds of reprogrammable beams, Inmarsat mentioned.

And operators stay divided on the viability of satellite tv for pc megaconstellations in low and medium Earth orbits.

“There’s an incredible vary in satellite tv for pc dimension and worth,” mentioned Pascal Homsy, government vp of Thales Alenia House’s telecommunications enterprise line. “The variety of satellites is a straightforward metric, however one which’s changing into out of date.”

Three producers — Airbus, Boeing and Thales Alenia House — launched small geostationary satellites weighing 2,000 to three,000 kilograms that emphasize light-weight design and reprogrammability.

Two extra producers, the newly shaped Saturn Satellite tv for pc Networks and China Nice Wall Trade Company, unveiled smaller geostationary satellites weighing round 1,000 kilograms.

And startup Astranis joined Tyvak in constructing even smaller GEO-bound satellites weighing a mere 250 to 350 kilograms.

GEO satellites ordered in 2019 are already beginning to mirror that variety of spacecraft choices. Startup producer Astranis introduced the primary GEO satellite tv for pc order of the yr — a small GEO it plans to function for Pacific Dataport, a buyer that may lease capability to offer web in Alaska.

Astranis CEO John Gedmark mentioned the satellite tv for pc has grown by 50 kilograms to round 350 kilograms, attributing the change to the “standard development you see generally with a brand new spacecraft program.”

Airbus completed 2019 with six GEO orders — three for Inmarsat, one for Measat and two satellites it is going to construct as “lead accomplice” with Thales Alenia House for Hisdesat.

Jean-Marc Nasr, head of house programs at Airbus Defence and House, attributed final yr’s sector-leading order complete to Airbus being first to roll out a reprogrammable small GEO satellite tv for pc.

“We have now invested on time with our versatile satellite tv for pc market resolution earlier than the others, reaching the market expectations on time,” Nasr mentioned.

That Boeing and Thales Alenia House rolled out their very own reprogrammable small GEOs months later is sweet and dangerous for Airbus, he mentioned.

“Unhealthy information due to competitors, however excellent news as a result of it means we have been proper,” he mentioned.


Nasr mentioned Airbus anticipated extra GEO satellite tv for pc orders to shut in 2019, however that operators delayed due to uncertainty concerning the markets they serve.

“We nonetheless see loads of difficulties for patrons to shut their enterprise instances. It’s an increasing number of tough for them to decide going ahead with a GEO satellite tv for pc,” Nasr mentioned. “We have now not seen, in the meanwhile, choices going in the direction of cancellation — it’s extra simply extra time wanted for them to resolve.”

Thales Alenia House anticipated closing a GEO satellite tv for pc order with the federal government of Nepal final yr, however noticed that call delayed. Firm spokeswoman Sandrine Bielecki mentioned a contract signature is now anticipated within the first months of 2020.

Intelsat additionally delayed to this yr a deliberate 2019 alternative resolution for the failed Intelsat-29e satellite tv for pc.

Operator uncertainty largely stems from an elevated curiosity in satellite tv for pc broadband. Finish-user demand adjustments extra quickly with broadband than with tv broadcasters, shifting the combo of consumers that satellite tv for pc operators now serve into much less predictable territory.

Reprogrammable satellites that includes digital channelizers, onboard electronically steered antennas, and different applied sciences enable operators to vary the scale, form and energy of their satellite tv for pc beams, making them extra conscious of buyer requests.

Homsy mentioned that by Thales Alenia House’s rely, 70% of satellites ordered final yr have been digital. He expects that pattern to proceed.

“We’re seeing each very massive and really small satellites, however most missions can be digital,” he mentioned. “We’re already beginning to see 100% software-defined satellites. By way of missions, there can be VHTS, video and connectivity, and 100% versatile [satellites].”

“Flexibility earlier than was solely inexpensive for presidency or army satellites,” added Rachel Villain, a principal adviser at Euroconsult who makes a speciality of satellite tv for pc manufacturing. “Now, it’s changing into inexpensive for the industrial and civilian world.”

Villain mentioned aviation and army clients typically have unpredictable information wants, which make it tough for operators to plan satellites lasting 15 years or extra until these satellites can alter their protection.

Fu Zhiheng, government vp of China Nice Wall Trade Company, mentioned his firm is seeing extra demand for versatile satellites when operators need high-throughput or very-high-throughput broadband capability, however much less so for different kinds of spacecraft.

“It will turn into extra frequent within the close to future,” Zhiheng mentioned of versatile satellites. “Nevertheless, it doesn’t imply the versatile satellite tv for pc will utterly substitute the traditional satellite tv for pc.”


Producers mentioned 2019 completed largely in keeping with their expectations for the variety of GEO satellites ordered. Most anticipate related numbers in 2020.

“A few of the most optimistic estimates level to 20 satellites,” mentioned Man Beutelschies, Lockheed Martin House’s vp of communication satellite tv for pc options. “Different extra pessimistic stories point out 10 to 11. I’m keen to guess 14 is an affordable quantity for 2020.”

Paul Estey, Maxar’s government vp of buyer relations for house infrastructure, mentioned his firm expects trade GEO satellite tv for pc orders “close to the highest finish of the 10-15 vary in 2020.”

Nasr mentioned Airbus expects a modest enhance over 2019’s 15 industrial orders, whereas Homsy mentioned Thales Alenia House initiatives 2020 orders will decline barely to 12 or 13 satellites.

Amer Khouri, Northrop Grumman’s vp of economic satellites, was extra optimistic, saying 2020 may see 15 to 20 GEO satellites ordered due to a powerful want amongst many operators for alternative satellites. He mentioned that quantity could possibly be closely influenced by the C-band spectrum debate in the USA, since satellite tv for pc operators say they are going to want new satellites to proceed companies with much less spectrum.

Intelsat and SES mentioned that they’d purchase 4 satellites every, all from American producers, if the U.S. Federal Communications Fee selected their personal public sale plan. The FCC finally selected a public public sale as an alternative, however has emphasised continuity of service for C-band satellite tv for pc operators as a precedence.

A few of 2019’s GEO orders have been additionally uncommon in that they have been pushed by army necessities regardless of being competed commercially. House Norway competed its Arctic Satellite tv for pc Broadband Mission amongst European and American producers earlier than deciding on Northrop Grumman to construct them each. The 2 satellites may have army payloads for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, the U.S. authorities and British industrial operator Inmarsat.

Hisdesat equally competed its two-satellite SpainSat Subsequent Era system globally earlier than selecting Airbus and Thales Alenia House. The SpainSat satellites will present army communications for the Spanish Ministry of Defence, which has a 30% stake in Hisdesat.

Thales Alenia House’s Ital-GovSatCom win in July was not an open procurement, in line with a number of analysts and producers, and Boeing’s April contract to construct an eleventh Wideband World Communications satellite tv for pc for the U.S. Air Pressure was a sole-source award funded by a congressional earmark.


Regardless of their predictions, producers have been reluctant to embrace the variety of GEO orders as a helpful metric of demand, since operators can request satellites weighing something from just a few hundred kilograms to a number of thousand kilograms.

Indonesian satellite tv for pc operator PSN, for instance, mentioned final yr it’s weighing shopping for a single massive VHTS satellite tv for pc, or a number of small GEOs, since both strategy may safe the 300 gigabits per second of extra capability it needs in orbit come 2023.

Homsy steered utilizing the whole worth of an order as a greater metric, however this additionally has limitations as a result of operators don’t all the time purchase standalone spacecraft.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of full packages wherein the satellite tv for pc is just one element, and wherein the system additionally generates extra income,” Homsy mentioned.

Beutelschies mentioned the three most up-to-date industrial satellites Lockheed Martin constructed included floor phase infrastructure.

For CGWIC, whose worldwide enterprise is restricted by U.S. export rules, most of its industrial offers are bundled with a launch on a Chinese language rocket, an strategy Zhiheng mentioned will proceed.

“In 2020, we’ll actively discover new alternatives within the rising markets,” he mentioned. “As we now have carried out up to now, our technique is to offer a packaged in-orbit-delivery resolution to clients.”

He declined to handle stories that China will assist Ethiopia domestically construct a communications satellite tv for pc.

Zhiheng mentioned CGWIC anticipates finalizing an order within the first half of 2020 with its new DFH-3E, a small GEO platform, which the corporate is providing bundled with a Lengthy March-2C or Lengthy March-2D launch. He mentioned CGWIC can be making efforts to bid on packages with established satellite tv for pc operators and eying new alternatives in its “fast-growing home market.”

Villain mentioned the typical capital expenditure for deploying a GEO satellite tv for pc, together with manufacturing, launch, insurance coverage and gateway stations, ranges from $150 million to $500 million. She estimated satellites beneath 1,000 kilograms possible price operators lower than $100 million to deploy. Villain mentioned that the “efficiency/capability of GEO comsats is rising proportionally quicker than their costs,” which means operators are getting extra capability per greenback spent than they did up to now.

Some new producers are additionally working the spacecraft they construct. Saturn Satellite tv for pc Networks will personal its first satellite tv for pc and lease its capability to Moscow-based Intersputnik. Jim Simpson, Saturn’s chief government, mentioned in a December interview that his firm will promote or lease its satellites based mostly on buyer choice. Astranis additionally will retain possession of its first satellite tv for pc.

NSR analyst Shagun Sachdeva mentioned she expects the manufacturer-turned-owner pattern to proceed, albeit modestly.

“Because the operators’ priorities range between price, asset possession, flexibility and throughput, there are limitations to how a lot market this pattern will seize,” she mentioned.

This text initially appeared within the Jan. 20, 2020 difficulty of SpaceNews journal.

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