SGDC Visiona Thales Brazil
Brazil’s new domestic satellite manufacturer Visiona Tecnologia Espacial is exploring multiple business avenues, including remote sensing as its first project, the SGDC satellite with Thales Alenia Space, nears launch. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

WASHINGTON — In the absence of a guaranteed order for a second geostationary satellite, Brazil’s emerging domestic satellite manufacturer Visiona Tecnologia Espacial is building up a remote sensing business and weighing a small satellite project in order to gain more experience.

Established in 2012, Visiona is a joint venture between Telebras Telecomunicações Brasileiras and Embraer Defense and Security tasked with cultivating a geostationary satellite manufacturing capability in Brazil. The company’s flagship project is the Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications (SGDC) satellite, a Ka- and X-band spacecraft for Telebras and the Brazilian Ministry of Defense constructed in partnership with Thales Alenia Space of France.

SGDC is slated to launch in March, toward the end of a six-month window with launch provider Arianespace on an Ariane 5 rocket. Visiona awarded the SGDC contract to Thales Alenia Space in the fourth quarter of 2013, which included a technology absorption program organized by the Brazilian Space Agency that let more than 65 Brazilians work alongside Thales experts in France. Visiona received the finished satellite this month and is preparing to have it shipped to French Guiana in February.

Visiona worked as the interface for Telebras and the Ministry of Defense to help design the satellite and integrate the payloads into a Thales Alenia Space’ Spacebus 4000 platform. To prevent a loss of momentum, Visiona is considering a satellite project in low Earth orbit that would allow the company to showcase its manufacturing abilities until other avenues of business become clear, according to company President and Chief Executive Eduardo Bonini.

“Next year the next step for Visiona could be building a new small satellite for observation. This would bring more confidence from customers and that could bring more chances to build products and capabilities,” Bonini told SpaceNews.

Visiona’s background is in low Earth orbit satellites. Much of the company’s technical acumen came from INPE, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, which has built several remote sensing spacecraft and led Brazil’s half of the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS) series. The latest such satellite, CBERS-4, launched in December 2014 on a Chinese Long March 4B rocket.

“Visiona is not waiting only for a second satellite in geostationary. We are working in front of all the necessary government areas that could use not a geostationary satellite, but a new satellite for observation, data collecting, or other applications,” Bonini said.

SGDC is Visiona’s first geostationary satellite project. The company would not have been able to complete the project without the support of Thales Alenia Space, which helped build the satellite and its ground stations in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro. A smaller satellite, however, is something Bonini believes it can complete on its own.

“We feel we have capacity to build a small satellite here in the weight of 100 kilograms that could meet the demands of several applications. Our idea is to use a Visiona platform that could fit into data collecting, remote sensing or strategic tactical communications and optical applications,” Bonini explained.

Earth imagery business

Visiona has also formed a new business unit called Observation Services that stitches together imagery from international satellite operators with coverage of Brazil.  Bonini said his company has partnerships with Airbus, DigitalGlobe, Restec (Remote Sensing Technology Center) of Japan, South Korea’s SI Imaging Services and UrtheCast. That service has generated a few million dollars in revenue from about 12 to 15 customers.

Bonini said Visiona is investing in value added services for the imagery, such as creating models and simulations, rather than just being an intermediary supplier. Visiona’s imagery partners were represented in Brazil in the past, but Bonini said the volume of business was too little to justify having a large individual presence. With the combined resources of the five imagery providers, Bonini said the company has optical coverage of Brazil ranging from 0.3 to 25 meters, and radar from 0.25 to 50 meters, as well as access to UrtheCast video from the International Space Station.

Bonini said Visiona is marketing this service to Brazil’s Ministry of Defense, but could also build a dedicated satellite constellation if they preferred a proprietary system. Visiona is pursuing customers with this imagery business in addition to trying to find additional customers who might buy satellites.

Future satellite plans

The SGDC communications satellite is designed primarily for government services. Its 50 Ka-band transponders are meant to provide full coverage of Brazil mainly for digital inclusion programs to bring internet access to remote parts of the country. The seven X-band transponders are for military applications.

Bonini said the country’s new government needs more time to determine if it wants to invest in a second SGDC satellite. The president of Telebras also changed with the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, Bonini said, and new leadership wants to ensure that continued investment in SGDC would be a profitable investment. He added that none of these changes have affected the first SGDC satellite.

Should Visiona obtain another geostationary satellite contract, be it an SGDC-2 or something else, Bonini said the company would seek to build more of the satellite with Brazilian parts and labor. “We have in mind that the integration of a second satellite should happen in Brazil,” he said.

This would likely involve using an assembly, integration and testing facility through INPE. Thanks to skills gained with SGDC, Bonini said Visiona would be able to build more composite materials, participate in building solar arrays and construct some of the power system for its next geostationary satellite project, whenever one starts.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...