PARIS — Boeing’s new satellite services division has broadened its commitment to Inmarsat’s coming Ka-band Global Xpress program by adding the satellites’ commercial Ka-band bandwidth to Boeing’s existing offering of Global Xpress’ military Ka-band capacity, the companies announced Nov. 21.
Officials from both companies said the new agreement, under which Boeing Commercial Satellite Services becomes a certified Value-Added Reseller (VAR) for Inmarsat Global Xpress, enables Boeing to sell the commercial Ka-band capacity alongside its existing take-or-pay agreement to sell the military Ka-band.
Like the previous deal, the expanded Global Xpress engagement by Boeing will be for U.S. government users, wherever they are.
Jim Mitchell, vice president of Boeing’s satellite services division, which was created to market Global Xpress, said becoming a VAR for commercial Ka-band bandwidth will allow Boeing to further fill in the gaps in coverage from the U.S. Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation of military Ka-band satellites, which Boeing is building, and from the military Ka-band portion of the Global Xpress payload.
In a Nov. 21 interview, Mitchell said the VAR agreement reflects increased interest by U.S. government customers in commercial Ka-band in areas that are not covered by WGS’s mainly fixed satellite beams.
El Segundo, Calif.-based Boeing is prime contractor for the Global Xpress satellites, which represent mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat’s foray into Ka-band services. In return for the original three-satellite construction contract, Boeing agreed to purchase 10 percent of the Global Xpress military Ka-band high-throughput capacity for the first five years of the satellites’ service life.
The first Global Xpress satellite is scheduled for launch in December aboard a Russian Proton rocket under a contract between London-based Inmarsat and International Launch Services of Reston, Va. The two others are scheduled for launch by the end of 2014, also aboard International Launch Services Protons.
Inmarsat added a fourth satellite to the Global Xpress program in October by exercising a contract option with Boeing. The fourth satellite will remain on the ground unless it is needed because of a failure of one of the first three, or until Inmarsat’s Global Xpress business justifies a fourth in-orbit satellite. A three-satellite constellation in geostationary orbit over the equator provides global coverage expect for the polar regions.
The recent U.S. Defense Department budget cuts — and the schedule disconnect between Pentagon satellite procurements and the different military services’ fielding of mobile terminals to use the satellites — have raised questions about whether Boeing will find as robust a market for Global Xpress’ military Ka-band capacity as it hoped for when it signed the take-or-pay commitment with Inmarsat.
Inmarsat officials recently moved to reassure investors that the Boeing commitment has not been modified in the current challenging military-budget environment in Washington.
Mitchell said Boeing’s assessment is that, if anything, the appetite for Global Xpress among prospective U.S. government customers has increased as WGS satellites are launched and their operational limits tested.
He said the commercial Ka-band sales as part of the VAR agreement nonetheless could be used to meet Boeing’s take-or-pay commitment.
Boeing has already listed Global Xpress’ military Ka-band capacity on U.S. government procurement schedules and will now add the commercial Ka-band. Mitchell said the commercial frequency would help when U.S. government users move between coverage areas of WGS beams.
The owners of Global Xpress and several other non-U.S. Ka-band satellite systems have taken steps to make their systems interoperable with WGS to facilitate military use. Military and civil/commercial Ka-band frequencies lie beside each other on the radio spectrum.
Inmarsat has said the military Ka-band payload on Global Xpress will be available to all NATO member nations in addition to the U.S. government. Not all NATO nations have moved toward adoption of Ka-band as quickly as has the U.S. government.
Peter Hadinger, president of Inmarsat’s U.S. Government Business Unit, said in a Nov. 21 interview that Boeing’s VAR agreement likely will serve as a model for other VAR partners Inmarsat expects to sign in the coming months.
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