If there was a turnaround-of-the-year prize for 2012 among satellite operators, Thaicom of Thailand would win it.

The company reported its first profit in five years as transponder-lease revenue was up by 20.5 percent and revenue from the IPStar Ku-band consumer broadband satellite also rose.

After several bad-luck attempts to preserve its — and Thailand’s — rights to the 50.5 degrees east orbital slot with its own aging spacecraft that ultimately needed to be retired, Thailand struck a deal with SES of Luxembourg.

SES’s NSS-5 satellite was moved to the 50.5 degrees east position in midyear after international regulators agreed to extend the deadline for filling the slot given Thaicom’s previous good-faith efforts to do so.

Thaicom’s stars seemed aligned to welcome incoming Chief Executive Suphajee Suthumpun, who assumed the position in early 2012 and who has tried to dampen investor expectations for 2013 by calling 2012 “an exceptional year.”

But the near term looks good as well, especially if, as current plans have it, the Thaicom 6 satellite is launched this year aboard the new Falcon 9 rocket operated by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif.

Thaicom is now scheduled aboard the third launch of the upgraded Falcon 9, making it SpaceX’s second geostationary-orbit customer after SES. For Thaicom, time is definitely money as the company has presold some 40 percent of the capacity on Thaicom 6.

It is not clear whether these customers will remain committed if the launch, which had been expected to occur by now, slips much beyond this fall.

Thaicom 7 is also under construction and is being built under a partnership with AsiaSat of Hong Kong, which refers to the satellite as AsiaSat 6. The two companies will evenly divide the use of the satellite’s payload of 28 C-band transponders. Thaicom 7/AsiaSat 6 will operate from 120 degrees east, and will permit Thaicom to preserve rights to that slot.

What is Thaicom’s next growth vector? The company says it is still weighing whether to build a second-generation IPStar/Thaicom 4 broadband satellite, which only recently has been given landing rights in India and China.

Thaicom said new advanced coding and modulation software has been integrated into the IPStar network and has resulted in a throughput increase of 15-20 percent with the same use of frequencies.

Alternatively, Thaicom could opt to build a Thaicom 8 satellite.

Thailand remains Thaicom’s biggest market, followed by Australia, which has been a big IPStar/Thaicom 4 customer while the Australian government awaits the launch of its own Ka-band consumer broadband satellites.

China has been a small Thaicom market up to now. How fast IPStar/Thaicom 4 can catch on there may help Thaicom decide on whether the unusual Ku-band broadband service offer, which pioneered the high-throughput satellite business when it was launched in 2005, has a future.


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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews.