Intelsat Buying Four More Epic Satellites from Boeing

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Intelsat is purchasing four more Epic high-throughput satellites from Boeing in a surprising announcement that positions Boeing as Intelsat’s preferred satellite supplier, Boeing and Intelsat announced May 9.

El Segundo, Calif.-based Boeing Satellite Systems, which inaugurated its second-generation 702 satellite line with a four-satellite order from Intelsat in 2009, is already building the first Epic satellite, the Intelsat 29e, which will be launched in 2015. The four new satellites, all using the Boeing 702MP satellite bus, will be launched on average once per year starting in 2016 and will be replacing existing spacecraft in Intelsat’s 50-satellite fleet, Intelsat said.

Intelsat Chief Executive David McGlade said in a May 9 conference call with investors that the contract gives Intelsat access to “exclusive Boeing technology” that will be used as part of Intelsat’s Epic design. Intelsat has described Epic as applying technologies normally associated with Ka-band consumer broadband high-throughput satellites to the C- and Ku-bands.

The Intelsat 29e satellite will be used as an overlay of current Intelsat capacity and take advantage of an Intelsat orbital slot over open ocean, where there is little C- and Ku-band crowding. Officials at Washington- and Luxembourg-based Intelsat have said their customers will not need to change out their ground equipment to benefit from the higher Epic throughput rates. 

The four-satellite Epic order includes the Intelsat 33e satellite, which was expected and will have a similar role to the Intelsat 29e.

The other three have not been given names or publicly assigned orbital slots.

McGlade said that as the company replaces existing spacecraft with Epic-class satellites, “we will break the linear relationship between our capex and capacity growth.”

In a May 10 response to SpaceNews inquiries, Dianne J. VanBeber, Intelsat vice president of investor relations, explained the Epic advantage this way: “In the past, you spent, say, $300 million and you got 72 transponders. Now you spend on a sliding scale of 1.4 or 1.5 times the cost, depending upon the loaded applications, and the throughput efficiency is 10 times greater.” 

McGlade said Intelsat 29e has the equivalent of 270 transponders, giving Intelsat “a terrific amount of growth capacity.”

VanBeber said May 9 that the four new spacecraft being built by Boeing do not include a replacement for the Boeing-built IS-27 satellite, which was destroyed in a January launch failure. VanBeber declined to specify what Boeing technology would be available to Intelsat with the four-satellite order. She said Boeing was selected after a competitive procurement process.

Financial terms of the four-satellite order were not disclosed.