HELSINKI — Fleet operator APT Satellite has contracted China Great Wall Industry Corp. to build its Apstar-6E satellite based on a new, small high-throughput platform as part of a joint venture.

Apstar-6E will be based on the new DFH-3E small GEO platform developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). The satellite will launch around 2023 and provide satellite telecommunication services in the Asia-Pacific region.

The total contract price is $137.6 million and covers manufacture, launch, service and insurance. The customer to pay upon completion of each applicable milestone.

In a report to the Hong Kong stock exchange released Nov. 6, APT Satellite Holdings of Hong Kong entered into the contract with CGWIC pending the establishment of a joint venture. 

The contract will transfer to the joint venture, consisting of APT Satellite and three major entities belonging to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) once established.

APT will be joined by CGWIC, which facilitates commercial Long March rocket launches, spacecraft maker CAST and deliverer of the satellite, and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), which will provide the Long March 2C for the launch. Each party will make a capital contribution.

As CASC holds a majority equity stake in APT Satellite. This means under Hong Kong Stock Exchange rules that the contracting party is required to submit the contract for review by an independent board committee.

Apstar-6E is to be delivered on-orbit by August 31, 2023, according to the terms of the contract.

Small GEO platform

The new DFH-3E is described by CGWIC as a small GEO platform featuring all-electric propulsion with a small-size payload with mature technology. 

The DFH-3E small GEO is understood to be around 1,300 kilograms with a payload mass of 300-450 kilograms. It has a payload power of 3-4 kilowatts and a service lifetime of 15 years.

Its lower mass allows it to be launched to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) by the Long March 2C. Most Chinese GEO platforms require the larger Long March 3B launch vehicle variants. The Long March 2C has carried out 54 launches since 1982. It has yet to perform a launch to GTO but can be used with a range of upper stages.

The contract notes that manufacturing of the APSTAR 6E Satellite needs to be commenced at an earliest possible time in order to meet the business plan and schedule of the joint venture.

APT Satellite’s previous spacecraft is the HTS Apstar-6D, which launched on a Long March 3B July 9. The satellite is based on the DFH-4E, an enhanced version of the Dongfanghong-4 platform which includes upgraded components to lighten the satellite platform and allow more room for communications payloads.

Apstar-6D arrived at 134 degrees East longitude in geostationary orbit Oct. 6. The 5,500 kilogram satellite has 90 Ku-band user beams for customers and eight Ka-band beams to link to gateway stations. It will provide maritime, in-flight connectivity and broadband services. 

APSTAR currently has six satellites operating in orbit. Apstar-6D was stated to be the first of a planned global system of three or four satellites for broadband connectivity to aircraft, ships and remote locations.

Apstar-6D was ordered by APT Mobile Satcom Ltd., a company that APT Satellite of Hong Kong formed together with mainland Chinese institutions including Beijing Shipping, a subsidiary of China Transport Telecommunication Information Center, in 2016.

Apstar-6D is the first in a long-term system envisioned as three or four satellites for global broadband from geostationary orbit. Credit: CASC.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for GBTIMES and SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.