The European satellite communications industry today reached a landmark of cooperation at Le Bourget air show in France. The accord regards collaboration on large space platform AlphaBus.

The two major satellite manufacturers Alcatel Space and Astrium, made the announcement jointly from the European Space Agency (ESA) pavilion of the Paris event.

Pascale Sourisse, chairman and CEO of Acatel Space, and Antoine Bouvier, chairman and CEO of Astrium, both explained that the agreement was crucial for the survival of the European satellite telecommunications sector.

According to Claudio Mastracci, ESA Director of Applications, “this agreement is a historical decision that sees two main actors like Alcatel Space and Astrium join forces on an ambitious project that will keep Europe at the forefront of the key satellite telecommunications sector. The success of this project is essential for Europe’s future in space”.

AlphaBus is indeed Europe’s contender in the large satcom platforms market. It is a high-performance satellite: increasingly powerful and reliable satellites with ever-greater payload capacity are being developed to meet the requirements of telecommunications from geostationary orbits. This trend has brought costs down, making satellite services affordable to more users. The sector is evolving continuously, from telephony to direct TV broadcasting, now preparing to meet demand for a new generation of multimedia and mobile services.

AlphaBus is destined to be an innovative and competitive product line. It will offer payload power of 12 kW to 18 kW initially, with substantial growth potential. This will make for still lower service costs for users, and the platform will be able to handle new types of mission – such as those needed to fly the very large antennas associated with next-generation payloads.

AlphaBus is a true product of European industry since it will combine high-tech equipment supplied by European companies, with Alcatel Space and Astrium as prime contractors. Thus a major European industrial contender will enter the world market with a unique product to go alongside the current Spacebus and Eurostar ranges. Alcatel and Astrium have concluded a joint marketing agreement for satellites using the new platform. An integrated Alcatel/Astrium project team is already in place, doing preparatory work on development of the AlphaBus line and its qualification on the ground.

AlphaBus was established through close cooperation between ESA and French space agency CNES. The first phase of the programme was given the go-ahead by the ESA Member States at the ministerial Council meeting held at Edinburgh in November 2001.

The definition phase, started in September 2002, is based on predevelopment of the most critical technologies. An integrated CNES/ESA project team, based in Toulouse, is in overall charge, as joint principal, of developing AlphaBus.

The CNES programme schedule endorsed by the Board on 30 April 2003 includes AlphaBus in the new projects to be taken to the development phase. ESA is preparing an in-flight validation programme for the AlphaBus platform. It will offer a unique opportunity to fly innovative payloads with enhanced capabilities and new satellite communication missions.

The first launch of a satellite from the AlphaBus product line is planned for 2007. The leading European players in the satellite sector have pooled the best of their expertise to provide Europe with a platform that has a vital role to play in the development of satellite communications. AlphaBus will be the European solution for satellite communication operators in the over 12 kw sector of the market.