Nineteen geostationary-orbiting commercial telecommunications satellites were ordered worldwide in 2007, a decline from 2006’s unusually rich harvest of 26 spacecraft but a result that industry officials say shows the continued health of the sector.
Early indications are that 2008 should be at least as good a year, with high-definition television and satellite-delivered mobile communications buttressing the core market of satellites needed each year to replace operating spacecraft nearing the end of their service lives.
of Canada, which builds electronics components for most satellite prime contractors, has told investors that the next 12 months may witness a record number of commercial spacecraft being contracted.
“Demand remains very robust,” Com Dev Chief Executive John Keating said in a Dec. 13 investor call.
Michael Targoff, chief executive of New York-based Loral Space and Communications, told investors in a Nov. 8 conference call his company’s decision to spend $40 million to add satellite-building capacity for its subsidiary reflects confidence that Loral needs to be able to be able to handle nine satellites per year.
Continuing a trend that began a couple of years ago, the world’s two largest space-hardware builders, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, were not active on the commercial market in 2007. Both of those firms bid only on a limited number of commercial programs, preferring to concentrate instead on the higher-margin business they get from the U.S. government.
Boeing in 2007, for example, won a NASA contract for two Tracking and Data Relay Satellites that is valued at $695 million. Boeing also won a $218 million U.S. Air Force contract for a fifth Wideband Global Satcom satellite and components for a sixth.
Lockheed Martin also won U.S. government orders in 2007, for communications and power systems on the Space-Based Infrared missile-warning satellites, the Advanced EHF communications satellite program and the Space Radar.
These two companies’ relative absence on the commercial stage may begin to change in 2008 if the U.S. Defense Department concludes several of its major procurements. This would free up Boeing and Lockheed Martin teams to compete for commercial work, especially since the decline of the U.S. dollar relative to the euro improves their competitiveness on international markets.
In part to protect themselves against the dollar’s decline, both of the principal European satellite builders, Astrium Satellites and ThalesAlenia Space, have struck production-sharing agreements with non-European, non-U.S. companies.
Alenia Space recently agreed to design a new satellite platform with NPO-PM of Russia, a long-time collaborator, in a deal that is designed to create a two-way flow of components – ThalesAlenia Space-built payloads and system engineering to NPO-PM-led satellites for the Russian market, and NPO-PM satellite platform components for ThalesAlenia Space-led spacecraft.
Satellites in 2006 struck a similar arrangement with Antrix Corp. of India, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, for the manufacture of small telecommunications spacecraft carrying an Astrium payload on an Antrix platform. But after a strong start, with two satellite contracts won in 2006, the European-Indian joint venture reported no contracts in 2007.
The Astrium-Antrix combination is a direct challenge to Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., which continues to reap the benefits of its decision to develop the Star 2 line of small telecommunications satellites. Orbital Sciences Chief Executive David W. Thompson said in a Nov. 8 conference call with investors the company expects to win four firm orders in 2008 after the five won in 2007.
That looks like a safe bet given that Americom’s two contracts with Orbital Sciences in 2007 included options for three more satellites. SES officials say there is little doubt that the options will be exercised.
The definition of what constitutes a commercial satellite, and even of what constitutes a new satellite, remains a subject of debate. SpacecomLtd.’s Amos-4 satellite, which is included among the 2007 commercial orders, is a commercial satellite that was contracted from Israel Aerospace Industries without an open bidding process.
Not included in the 2007 count is the Alphasat I-XL satellite being built for of London.Alphasat I-XL has a large commercial mission, but the contract with Astrium Satellites and ThalesAlenia Space was signed with no outside bidding as Alphasat features substantial funding by the European Space Agency.