Falcon 9, Proton Failures Tap the Brakes on Eutelsat Growth

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on July 30 said revenue for the coming year would slow because of launch delays, payment difficulties among some of its Russian customers and continued soft demand in government – mainly U.S. government – use of the company’s fleet.

Paris-based Eutelsat said revenue for the 12 months ending June 30, 2016, is likely to be just 2-3 percent ahead of the previous year before increasing by 4-6 percent in the following year as new satellites come into service. The new forecast does not account for eventual foreign-exchange fluctuations.

As is the case with its main European competitor, SES of Luxembourg, Eutelsat’s near-term forecast has been upset by delayed launches following launch failures of two of the three main commercial providers.

SES’s most immediate concern is the return to flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

For Paris-based Eutelsat, the Russian Proton vehicle is the focus.

The Eutelsat 9B satellite’s launch aboard a Proton had been set for mid-2015, then for the late summer. The satellite is now expected to launch in November, Eutelsat said.

Eutelsat said Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow on July 29 said both the Eutelsat 9B and the Eutelsat 36C satellites will be launched in November, on separate Protons.

Eutelsat 36C is considered a Russian Federal mission because the Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow, a Eutelsat regional competitor but also a regular partner, owns a part of the 36C payload.

It remained unclear whether the 9B or the 36C will be launched first as the Proton rocket returns to flight following a May failure.

Eutelsat said it is assuming, for now, that Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX will be able to resume launches quickly enough following its June 28 failure to place into orbit all the satellites that had been scheduled for launch this year before the failure. That would mean its 117 West B satellite, to ride alongside a satellite owned by ABS of Bermuda, would be launched late this year.

SpaceX has yet to announce a firm date for Falcon 9’s return to flight.

In a conference call with investors, Eutelsat said its all-electric 115 West satellite, launched with an ABS spacecraft March 1 aboard a Falcon 9, is now expected to reach its operating station no earlier than October.

The company said it expects it will take the same 7-9 months for the 117 West B. Both satellites, as well as both the ABS satellites, were built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California.

Boeing was the first Western satellite builder to sell all-electric satellites into the commercial telecommunications market. Airbus has now booked its first sales. Eutelsat said its Airbus-built 172B satellite, when launched aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket in 2017, will take just four months to reach orbit.

Satellites using all-chemical propellant weigh as much as 50 percent more than all-electric satellites of the same capacity, making launches more expensive, but they generally reach their final geostationary-orbit slots within six weeks of launch.

Most commercial fleet operators say they will be using all-electric satellites at some point giving the mass savings, but the time to orbit is a concern, especially for owners of smaller fleets that have difficulty waiting eight months to start generating revenue, even if they realized launch-cost savings.

Eutelsat continues negotiating with Russia-based video customers who are having trouble paying Eutelsat in euros when their customers are paying in lower-valued rubles. Eutelsat said it is “alleviating contract terms” with these customers and that this cost the company some 2 million euros ($2.2 million) in the 12 months ending June 30.

Eutelsat said total revenue for the 12 months ending June 30 was 1.48 billion euros, up 9.5 percent over the previous year as the much-strengthened U.S. dollar buoyed many of its contracts outside of Europe.

After stripping away the effects of the dollar’s rise, revenue was up 4 percent.

Eutelsat Chief Executive Michel de Rosen said during the conference call that all of the company’s divisions – the dominant video as well as data transmissions, broadband and even government services, up 2.6 percent at constant exchange rats and 12.5 percent with the dollar’s rise – showed increased revenue in the past year.

Eutelsat’s consumer broadband business is mainly from its Ka-band Ka-Sat satellite over Europe. Ka-Sat subscribers totaled 185,000 as of June 30, up 2.8 percent over three months.

Eutelsat’s fleet broadcast 5,793 television channels as of June 30, an increase of 2 percent over 12 months. High-definition channels were 11.9 percent of the total, compared to 10.2 percent a year ago.