A start-up Asian satellite operator that purchased its sole satellite in orbit at damaged-goods prices a year ago has seen a 300-percent growth in business and won approval of its financial backers for a second, larger spacecraft to be launched in 2010, according to the company’s president.
Thomas K. Choi , chief executive of Asia Broadcast Satellite Ltd. (ABS) of Hong Kong, said the company’s Citigroup-backed business plan has proved on target as ABS has increased its satellite-lease prices by 30 percent in the past year –
even increasing prices for existing customers.
ABS in mid-2006 purchased the LMI-1 satellite from Lockheed Martin Corp. as part of Lockheed’s disposal of its telecommunications service assets. The satellite occupies an interesting orbital slot, at 75 degrees east longitude over the Indian Ocean, with C- and Ku-band beams covering the entire region, from Europe to Australia.
Launched in mid-1999, the Lockheed Martin A2100AX spacecraft is estimated to have sufficient fuel to continue operating until 2023, Choi said.
The satellite’s capacity and orbital location were well known in 2006. What was unclear was whether a team dedicated to selling its capacity
to Asian television broadcasters and cellular-network operators could make the satellite, now called ABS-1, the centerpiece of a successful business.
In an Oct. 12 interview, Choi said ABS-1, which was no more than around 30 percent full in 2005,
now is at 60 percent of capacity and expected to reach 80 percent of capacity before the end of this year.
It should reach a 90-percent fill rate in early-2008, Choi said, adding that current demand estimates are so optimistic that ABS in August won the approval of its board to purchase an ABS-2. The company has sent out requests for information to prospective satellite builders, and expects to select a consulting company to organize the competition by November.
A formal request for bids would then be issued in December or January, with a construction contract scheduled to be signed by mid-2008.
“What we are looking for is a satellite that is not as big as NSS-8,” Choi said, referring to the New Skies satellite intended for Asia that was destroyed in a January launch failure. “We want between 30 and 60 transponders –
say 20 in C-band and 40 in Ku-band. It will be co-located with ABS-1 but will have a lot more on-board flexibility for frequency reuse and for changing coverage areas.”
The satellite construction schedule
means ABS-2 will not be in orbit before mid-2010 at the earliest. The company is considering the possibility of ordering a satellite with no U.S.-built components since launch of a satellite with U.S. components
aboard a Chinese Long March rocket would be barred by U.S. export-control restrictions, known as ITAR, or the International Traffic in Arms regulations. Such a choice would give ABS an additional launcher option at a time of tight commercial-launcher supply and rapidly rising launch prices.
To avoid being out of the market with a nearly full satellite in the interim, ABS and Vietnam Telecom International have struck an agreement to share capacity between ABS-1 and Vinasat-1, a Lockheed Martin-built satellite scheduled for launch in mid-2008.
said ABS views the Vietnam link as part of a long-term partnership
he said the company would like to reproduce with other regional operators that do not want to be purchased by global satellite-fleet owners but nonetheless need the business assurance provided by multiple satellite assets.
“If you look at the beams provided by Vinasat, it seems clear that the owners have ambitions beyond just serving national demand in Vietnam,” Choi said. “Our hope is that we will have a relationship with them that extends well beyond the ABS-2 in-service date. We are talking to other regional operators about similar partnerships.”
Several satellite-fleet operators this year have said demand for satellite capacity over Africa is bumping against supply limits, especially since the NSS-8 failure in January. ABS is also unable to meet all the demand it sees in Africa, especially in C-band.
But it’s not just Africa, and not just C-band.
“In Indonesia alone it’s estimated that they could use three or four more satellites just to handle backhaul for mobile communications –
and they don’t have many national orbital slots,” Choi said. “But in the entire region, if you add mobile cellular-network backhaul and the growth of demand for general telecommunications and television service, you conclude that there are not enough microwave assets in space that can address the global demand.”