Brazil’s Star One taps SSL for satellite, Arianespace for launch

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WASHINGTON — Brazilian satellite operator Embratel Star One today purchased a multiple-payload telecommunications satellite from Space Systems Loral, reflecting the company’s mixed feelings on adopting high-throughput Ka-band capacity.

The company also secured a 2019 launch slot with European launch provider Arianespace using an Ariane 5 rocket.

The 6,200-kilogram satellite, known as Star One D2, will carry commercial C-, Ku- and Ka-band capacity, along with a military X-band payload. Its projected coverage area includes South and Central America, including Mexico, and parts of the Atlantic Ocean.

The diversity of payloads on Embratel Star One’s latest satellite showcases the balancing act the operator is performing in adopting new technologies while making use of existing infrastructure. On a Sept. 14 panel at World Satellite Business Week, Fabio Alencar, head of business development at Star One, said the operator — the largest in Latin America with a fleet of nine satellites — remained skeptical about rushing into Ka-band as fast as other operators. The majority of Star One’s revenue is in C- and Ku-band, he said, and the ability to offer higher-speed services with Ka-band doesn’t promise to bring in more money.

“When I have fill factors like I have in C-band on Ka, my price per megabit in Ka will be going down so that at the end revenue is stable,” he said. “I don’t see that as a big generator for cash flow in our case.”

Alencar said Star One views Ka-band as “really more to preserve the revenue” generated in other bands than as a game changer for the company. Star One’s first Ka-band payload launched in December last year on an Ariane 5 rocket as part of the Star One D1 satellite. The “D-Series” satellites are the operator’s fourth-generation spacecraft.

The high price of Ka-band gateways and other ground equipment is an impediment to further adoption, he added. Alencar said Star One doesn’t plan to pursue terabit-per-second satellites like what ViaSat, SES and new low-Earth orbit startups are vying for.

Competitors of Star One have built and launched Ka-band capacity over Brazil and Latin America with more vigor. Germantown, Maryland-based Hughes Network Systems chose Brazil as its first international market to expand consumer internet services last year, using Ka-band on Eutelsat’s 65 West A high-throughput satellite. Hispasat of Madrid, Spain, has three Latin America-focused satellites with Ka-band payloads — Amazonas 5, Hispasat 30W-5 and Hispasat 36W-1 — with varying amounts of capacity allocated for Brazil.

Visiona Tecnologia Espacial, a joint venture of Embraer and Telebras, also launched the Ka- and X-band Brazilian Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications Satellite in May. That spacecraft is designed to support rural broadband initiatives and autonomous military communications.