SSL bags Amos-8 and BSAT-4b manufacturing contracts

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WASHINGTON — Satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral on March 26 announced two satellite operators contracted the company to build geostationary telecommunications satellites ahead of fast-approaching 2020 deadlines.

Israeli fleet operator Spacecom selected SSL to build Amos-8, a Ku- and Ka-band satellite for television broadcast and data connectivity services, and to have the satellite on orbit in 27 months.

Japan’s Broadcasting Satellite System Corporation, BSAT, tasked SSL with building BSAT-4b, a backup satellite that needs to be in orbit ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which start in July 2020.

Amos-8: a win for SSL, but a major loss for Israel Aerospace Industries

Spacecom said earlier this month it was weeks away from ordering Amos-8 to bring the operator’s fleet up to four fully owned satellites. In a notice to the Tel Aviv stock exchange, Spacecom said it is paying $112 million for the satellite, along with a ground control system, launch support services, and operational support of the satellite over its lifetime.

Spacecom is currently borrowing AsiaSat-8, rebranded as Amos-7, at a cost of $22 million a year until 2020 to fill a hole in its coverage after Amos-6 was destroyed along with a SpaceX Falcon 9 in a September 2016 pre-launch explosion. The AsiaSat contract includes the option for a one-year extension, but Spacecom would prefer to return the satellite as soon as possible.

Spacecom said it will pay SSL a bonus if the company can build the satellite faster than the contract’s deadline. If Amos-8 falls behind, however, SSL will be penalized for the delay, Spacecom said.

SSL’s receipt of the Amos-8 contract is a blow to Israel’s domestic satellite manufacturer, Israel Aerospace Industries, which built Amos-6 but has struggled to maintain its telecom satellite manufacturing business.

In a statement provided to SpaceNews, IAI said it proposed a “state-of-the-art satellite which responds to the needs of the State of Israel,” but that the proposal was based on state involvement and funding it did not receive.

“Once the Government of Israel has decided not to provide the funding for the project, IAI stood no chance of competing against the pricing of foreign companies,” IAI said. “In the absence government support, Israel stands to lose a national asset of aerospace and satellite knowhow and capabilities, which has been nurtured over decades of research and development.”

Amos-8 follows another Spacecom order, Amos-17, that went to a non-Israeli manufacturer. Boeing Satellite Systems International is building Amos-17 ahead of a 2019 SpaceX launch.

Spacecom has a contract option to launch Amos-8 on a Falcon 9 rocket in the second half of 2020 using funds previously paid to SpaceX for the launch of Amos-6.

B-SAT backs up Olympic broadcast plans with incumbent supplier

Tokyo-based B-SAT, whose largest shareholder is the Japan Broadcasting Corporation NHK, plans to broadcast the 2020 summer olympics in ultra-HD — a level of quality that brings more detail but requires more capacity to distribute.

Satellite operators with large broadcast businesses have over the past two years begun trialing and launching their first 4K ultra-HD channels, which deliver four times the resolution as HD broadcasts. NHK is one of the frontrunners in ultra-HD, pursuing not only 4K, but also 8K which is 16 times higher resolution than HD.

Bsat-4b
Artist’s rendition of BSAT-4b. Credit: SSL/Maxar Technologies

B-SAT operates a fleet of four satellites, and uses the first three — BSAT-3a, BSAT-3b and BSAT-3c — for 2K broadcasts. The company said March 26 that it plans to start regular 4K and 8K broadcasts with BSAT-4a, an SSL-built satellite, this December.

“SSL completed BSAT-4a ahead of schedule and it is successfully operating on orbit,” Takashi Yabashi, B-SAT’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are pleased to extend our very good relationship with SSL to continue our partnership on the BSAT-4b spacecraft.”

BSAT awarded SSL a contract to build BSAT-4a in June 2015. The satellite launched on an Ariane 5 in September 2017, or 27 months later. SSL said BSAT-4b will be similar to its predecessor, providing high-performance Ku-band broadcasting services from the 110 degrees east orbital location.