News from Satellite 2014 | ILS To Get Fewer Launches in 2014, Expects Boost from New Russian Export Credit Agency

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WASHINGTON — Commercial launch services provider International Launch Services expects to conduct four or five commercial campaigns this year, compared with seven in 2013, as demand for Russian government launches, not handled by ILS, consumes most of the rocket’s 10-launch manifest this year, ILS President Phil Slack said March 10.

Briefing reporters here during the Satellite 2014 conference, Slack declined to speculate on what satellites might make it onto the commercial manifest in 2014, saying it depends in part on whether the planned Russian government satellites are on schedule. He specifically said ILS is talking with Inmarsat about the second of two planned Inmarsat Global Xpress satellites and its place on the manifest.

Near-term ILS launches this year include the Astra 2G satellite for SES of Luxembourg and the Yamal 401 spacecraft for Russia’s Gazprom Space Systems, Slack said.

In what he called a potentially major boost to ILS’s competitiveness, Slack said the Russian government has created an export credit agency whose mandate is to be much more active than its predecessor organization in giving financial assistance to Russian exports.

The Export Insurance Agency of Russia (EXIAR), whose operating terms are being vetted by Western banks, will not provide direct loans as the U.S. Export-Import Bank does, but rather provide government guarantees for loans provided by commercial banks — in this case, denominated in dollars, euros or rubles. The French export-credit agency, Coface, operates in a similar manner.

Slack said EXIAR representatives were here the week of Satellite 2014 March 10-14 to size up what for the organization is a new industry.

“This is absolutely” a major development for ILS, Slack said. “There have been bids we have lost in the past where I knew we were 20 percent cheaper than the competition but we were not selected because a competitor had an [export credit agency] loan that made the financial package superior for the [satellite owner] customer.”

The U.S. Export-Import Bank and Coface, along with China’s export credit agency, have been active in backing bids by their domestic rocket and satellite industry in recent years.

The failure of the Russian Proton rocket in July 2013, the latest of several tied to basic manufacturing-quality oversights in recent years, has led to an increase in insurance premiums demanded of customers of ILS launches.

With a clean record since then and six consecutive launch successes for Proton, insurance premiums for ILS Proton missions have nudged down and should be in the vicinity of the rates obtained by Europe’s Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket by the end of this year, Slack said.

Proton typically launches 10 times per year, with ILS and the Russian government dividing the manifest.

ILS and Arianespace both say that an unusually large number of relatively light satellites will be the subject of launch bids in 2014. These would be suited for the lower position on the Ariane 5.

To meet the demand of what Slack said is a durably growing market for smaller satellites, ILS and Russian satellite builder ISS Reshetnev on March 10 announced an arrangement to make it easier for non-Russian satellites to be paired with a Reshetnev spacecraft for a dual launch on Proton.

The pairing is intended to capture part of the market for all-electric satellites, which are generally much lighter than satellites of equivalent power and payload capacity using conventional chemical propellant.

Depending on the weight of the satellite, Slack said, ILS is positioning Proton as able to deliver an all-electric satellite much closer to its final position in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator than the competition.

One of the drawbacks of electric-powered satellites is that once dropped off in transfer orbit, their low-thrust propulsion systems take up to eight months to deliver the satellite into final operating orbit, rather than a week typically required of satellites with chemical propellant.

 

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