Arabsat orders its first made-in-Saudi satellite
WASHINGTON — Arabsat has ordered a new telecommunications satellite from two Saudi Arabian entities that have worked with Lockheed Martin to learn how to build spacecraft.
Lockheed Martin built Arabsat 6A and Hellas-sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 under a 2015 contract that included the U.S.-based aerospace giant committing to pursue the establishment of a joint-venture company with Taqnia Space Co., a subsidiary of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, to produce future satellites in Saudi Arabia.
Last week, Arabsat announced that it had signed an agreement with Taqnia Space to build Arabsat-6D, a Ka- and Ku-band satellite for television, broadband and in-flight connectivity that it will co-own with KACST at 44.5 degrees East.
Financial terms of the Arabsat-6D order were not disclosed. Arabsat-6D is expected to launch in 2019, although no launch contract has been announced.
“Today’s agreement is the culmination of the strategic partnership between Arabsat, King AbdulAziz City for Science and Technology and Taqnia Space, which started with satellite SGS-1 on the orbital position 39⁰ East, scheduled to be launched early 2018,” Khalid bin Ahmed Balkheyour, president and CEO of Arabsat, said in a March 2 statement.
Arabsat and the Saudi Arabian government’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) are spending roughly $650 million for the manufacture, launch and in-orbit testing of Arabsat-6A and SGS-1. Lockheed Martin spokesperson Jill Krugman said the company has continued to explore a Saudi-joint venture since the contract, but one hasn’t been finalized.
SpaceX is contracted to launch Arabsat-6A on a Falcon Heavy, and Arianespace to launch SGS-1 on an Ariane 5. Both launches are slated for 2018.
Taqnia Space is an anchor customer for SGS-1 and Arabsat-6D. It plans to use the satellites for in-flight connectivity. Taqnia previously procured that capacity from French satellite operator Eutelsat, leasing four high-throughput Ka-band beams on Eutelsat-3B. Saudi Airlines has committed to using Taqnia Space’s connectivity service for its entire fleet of more than 100 aircraft.