Boeing Building Mobile Broadcasting Satellite for Chinese Market

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PARIS — Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems has begun construction of an L-band mobile broadcasting satellite for the Chinese market under a contract with a New York-based company acting on behalf of a Cayman Islands-based, Hong Kong-traded company affiliated with China Telecom.

El Segundo, California-based Boeing has been involved with Cayman-based CMMB Vision Holdings Ltd. and its Silkwave-1 satellite project for the better part of two years. But only recently has CMMB lined up sufficient financial and regulatory support to permit construction to start.

Silkwave-1, a Boeing 702 satellite, will enter service in 2018 and expand multimedia communications for mobile users in China, India and other markets in Asia. Credit: Boeing
Silkwave-1, a Boeing 702 satellite, will enter service in 2018 and expand multimedia communications for mobile users in China, India and other markets in Asia. Credit: Boeing

The 6,000-kilogram, 14-kilowatt Silkwave-1, based on Boeing’s 702 satellite platform, is scheduled for launch, by a launch-service provider not yet selected – but not China’s Long March vehicle given U.S. technology transfer restrictions – in 2018.

Boeing’s contract is with New York Broadband LLC, whose U.S. address makes regulatory approvals easier as most satellite-related transactions with China are complicated by U.S. technology-transfer rules.

New York Broadband will lease all the capacity to CMMB. To quicken its entry into the Chinese market for radio and video broadcasts via satellite to automobiles in China, CMMB has negotiated the purchase of the aging AsiaStar satellite at 105 degrees east.

AsiaStar was part of a planned digital radio broadcast constellation for WorldSpace, which has since sold its assets and disappeared.

Charles Wong, chief executive of CMMB, said the company has negotiated the terms of the purchase of AsiaStar and determined that despite its age — it was launched in 2000 — it has six to eight years of useful life remaining.

CMMB, a subsidiary of China Telecom, has secured an agreement with China Satellite Mobile Media Ltd. for joint operation of AsiaStar and has a license to operate on Chinese territory, according to CMMB filings with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

CMMB’s operating partner will be China Radio International, which Wong said has broadcasting rights in mainland China.

In an Oct. 29 interview, Wong said he expected the transfer of rights to AsiaStar, and the satellite’s purchase, to clear Hong Kong Stock Exchange regulatory requirements by early 2016.

In keeping with Chinese regulations, CMMB will operate AsiaStar and the future Boeing-built Silkwave-1 from an uplink station in Beijing. CMBB is acquiring an uplink facility in Melbourne, Australia, also a legacy asset of the WorldSpace business.

CMMB is not a large company, reporting revenue of less than $700,000 for the first six months of 2015. It is backed by private-equity investment company Chi Capital Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong, a company wholly owned by Wong Chau Chi.

Charles Wong said the total investment in the project is likely to be between $600 million and  $700 million. He said that for the Boeing contract the company is considering whether to seek loan backing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which has been closed for new business since July 1 but appears about to be reauthorized by the U.S. Congress.