ESA Wants Partner for 3rd Data-relay Satellite

by

FARNBOROUGH, England — The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to team with an industrial partner to launch a third data-relay satellite in geostationary orbit over Asia or the Americas to form a global network to deliver video and imagery from unmanned aerial platforms directly to users, ESA’s head of telecommunications said July 12.

Magali Vaissiere said the data-relay proposal, tentatively budgeted at 200 million euros ($250 million) plus the industrial contribution, is part of a 1.6 billion-euro telecommunications package she hopes to submit in November to ESA government ministers.

Given the financial pressure faced by several of ESA’s biggest member states, the telecommunications budget approved by ESA ministers in November may fall far short of 1.6 billion euros. In that case, these governments will be asked to select from among the different projects Vaissiere’s directorate is proposing.

An expanded data-relay service, called GlobeNet, is one of these. It would provide a third platform in geostationary orbit to speed the flow of data from unmanned aerial vehicles and Earth observation satellites to users.

The satellite likely would be owned by Astrium Services of Europe, which is already managing ESA’s European Data Relay Satellite Service (EDRS).

EDRS has two data-relay platforms in development. The first is a payload to be launched aboard the Eutelsat 9B commercial telecommunications satellite in 2014 and operated at 9 degrees east. Astrium Services, whose sister company, Astrium Satellites, is building Eutelsat 9B, has already contracted with Eutelsat for the service.

The second EDRS is a full satellite, under construction by OHB AG of Germany, that would carry a data-relay terminal and be operated at an orbital position secured by Avanti Communications of London, a company that is developing a satellite broadband business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Avanti has been coy about disclosing the orbital slot that this satellite, called Hylas 3, will occupy when it is launched in 2015. The company has secured rights to various orbital positions, including 61.5 degrees east and 31 degrees east, but some of these reservations will expire before the satellite is launched.

Avanti raised 73.8 million British pounds ($114 million) for Hylas 3 in February, telling investors it had secured an agreement with ESA to place Avanti’s Hylas 3 Ka-band broadband communications package as a hosted payload on the ESA satellite.

MDA Corp. of Canada announced July 10 that it is building the Avanti Hylas 3 Ka-band payload under a contract valued at 35 million Canadian dollars ($34.3 million).

That would leave about $80 million remaining from Avanti’s stock issue to pay ESA to host the broadband payload.

In a July 12 interview here during the Farnborough Air Show, Vaissiere declined to disclose the value of the Avanti deal, but said it fell within the income estimate embedded into the EDRS services contract with Astrium Services.
The contract calls for Avanti to pay a one-time fee. It does not require annual payments, she said.

Vaissiere said ESA is not concerned with the exact orbital slot selected by Avanti for Hylas 3 so long as it is far enough away from the 9 degrees east location of the Eutelsat-hosted EDRS terminal to provide maximum coverage.

Adding a third EDRS satellite, Vaissiere said, would provide a global network of data-relay services for customers around the world with Earth observation satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles.

These platforms generate huge amounts of data that must either be stored or downlinked directly to ground networks that may not be immediately available.

ESA’s EDRS uses laser optical terminals to beam data between low-orbiting Earth observation satellites and the ground via the data-relay spacecraft in higher geostationary orbit. In the months since the EDRS contract was signed, ESA has been persuaded that the business model would be strengthened if it widened its appeal beyond Earth observation to include unmanned aerial systems.
Another advantage of the three-satellite scenario, Vaissiere said, is that it would enable direct laser links between the three EDRS spacecraft.