Boeing expects market for big communications satellites to remain soft

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WASHINGTON — The commercial market for geostationary communications satellites shows no signs of rebound, according to Boeing executives who attribute lackluster demand to the rapid pace of innovation in the satellite market, few launch opportunities and the inability of the U.S. Export Import Bank to finance large transactions.

In 2004, customers worldwide purchased 13 commercial geostationary communications satellites, the lowest level since 2004, Mark Spiwak, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, said March 7 during a press briefing at the Satellite 2017 conference here.

This year, doesn’t look much better, said Dawn Harms, Boeing Satellite Systems International vice president for global sales and marketing. “We hoped it would have picked up by now, but we are not seeing it.”

Harms estimates commercial manufacturers will sell between 13 and 17 satellites in 2017, rather than the 20 to 25 orders common in recent years.

“Once ViaSat launched its very high throughput, large capacity terabit satellite, a lot of the folks that were rolling out their high throughput systems rethought their business plans,” Harms said. Customers also paused to assess the market when companies began announcing plans for large communication satellite constellations in low Earth orbit, she added.

Launch delays have further aggravated the problem. One Boeing satellite customer’s launch is a year and half behind schedule, Harms said, adding, “Why would you buy a satellite when you can’t get it launched?”

For Boeing specifically, financing large satellite orders has been a problem since the U.S. Ex-Im bank has been unable to approve transactions over $10 million because its board lack a quorum.

“Ex-Im absolutely impacts the ability of U.S. contractors to sell products,” Spiwak said. “We are at a significant disadvantage.”

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