Spacecom less than two months from Amos-8 purchase

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WASHINGTON — Seeking to return a borrowed satellite as soon as possible, Israeli fleet operator Spacecom is very close to purchasing a new satellite dubbed Amos-8, a company official said March 14.

Jacob Keret, Spacecom’s senior vice president of sales and marketing for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, said manufacturers “hungry” for business in the midst of a multiyear slump have become more amenable during procurement negotiations.

Spacecom for the past year has borrowed AsiaSat-8 from Hong Kong operator AsiaSat as a gapfiller for Amos-6, a large telecom satellite destroyed in SpaceX’s 2016 Falcon 9 pre-launch explosion. The loaner satellite costs Spacecom $22 million a year.

“This caused us to spend more money than we have anticipated,” Keret said. “We are spearheading the process of selecting a vendor for Amos-8 satellite that we plan to launch at the end of 2020, about 30 months from now. I would assume that the vendor would be selected within the next months or six weeks. That would allow us enough time for the manufacturing of the satellite, and then we will be able to bring back AsiaSat’s satellite.”

Back-to-back spacecraft losses in 2015 and 2016 sent Spacecom from fleet expansion to fleet recovery. Preceding the destruction of Amos-6, Spacecom’s Russian-built Amos-5 satellite ceased working in orbit due to a power system failure in 2015, just four years after launch.

What should have by now been a fully owned four-satellite fleet with margin for expansion is instead two fully owned satellites and a borrowed spacecraft.

Keret said Amos-17, a replacement for Amos-5, remains on track for a 2019 SpaceX launch. Spacecom is using money paid toward the launch of Amos-6 to launch Amos-17, and intends to launch Amos-8 with SpaceX as well.  

Cobbett Hill Earth Station, a British teleport operator, signed a lease agreement in March for C-band capacity on Amos-17, becoming the first customer on the satellite. Keret said Spacecom has the goal of pre-selling about 30 percent of the satellite’s capacity ahead of launch.

Amos-17 will be located at 17 degrees east with coverage over Europe, Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia reaching to West China. Boeing is building the satellite with C-, Ku- and Ka-band transponders.

Keret said Africa is struggling with an oversupply of satellite capacity, but argued Amos-17 will be differentiated enough to generate meaningful business. The Boeing-supplied digital payload enables “enormous” flexibility, he said, such as the ability to uplink in one frequency and downlink in another. The satellite will also have advanced interference-suppression capabilities, preventing stray signals and intentional jamming from disrupting communications, he said.

“This is something which is very important, especially in Africa,” he said. “Sometimes systems are going out of calibration and it affects many other customers.”

Keret said the satellite’s high-throughput C-band payload will have four times the spectrum efficiency of traditional C-band, and will be used for managed services to cellular operators wanting to expand their reach by satellite. Spacecom is courting direct-to-home television broadcasters in Europe and Africa with Amos-17’s Ku-band capacity, and defense customers with the satellite’s steerable Ka-band spot beams, he said.  

Amos-8 will be smaller than Amos-17, Keret said, and will carry Ku- and Ka-band capacity.

Keret said Spacecom is watching the development of new broadband constellations in low Earth orbit, but views the cost of building such a network as too high to do so itself. Keret said there is a high risk that many won’t succeed, but those that do are prospects for future partnerships.