Eutelsat taps Loft Orbital, AAC Clyde to lay cornerstone for ELO constellation

by

WASHINGTON — Eutelsat on Sept. 24 said it ordered two cubesats from AAC Clyde Space and hired Loft Orbital to build and fly data-transfer payloads on a pair of shared smallsats to test the market for a 25-satellite Eutelsat LEO for Objects constellation.

Paris-based Eutelsat aims to use its envisioned Eutelsat LEO for Objects, or ELO, constellation to process signals for multitudes of sensors and smart devices around the globe. Eutelsat says that nanosatellites in low Earth orbit are better suited than its existing constellation of nearly 40 geostationary satellites for delivering low-data-rate connectivity to millions of remote devices the transportation, agriculture, and oil and gas industries are expected to deploy as part of the coming Internet of Things boom. 

Under the deals announced Sept. 24, Loft Orbital will build two 8-kilogram payloads for Eutelsat and fly them on two 80-kilogram multi-customer condosats the San Francisco startup plans to launch in 2020. The first of these satellites, YAM-2, is slated to launch on India’s PSLV rocket between Feb. 1 and April 30. 

AAC Clyde Space, meanwhile, will build two 12-kilogram 6U cubesats that Eutelsat said will launch in 2021.

Eutelsat previously ordered a prototype nanosatellite from Tyvak International expected to launch early next year on an undisclosed rocket to test waveforms between the satellite and objects on the ground. 

Eutelsat said the AAC Clyde Space satellites and Loft Orbital hosted payloads will cost the company no more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) each. AAC Clyde Space said in a Sept. 24 news release that its Eutelsat contract is worth 2 million euros, with the potential to expand to 5 million euros “depending on chosen options and services.”

Eutelsat intends to press its Loft Orbital and AAC Clyde Space payloads into commercial service soon after launch to determine if the larger ELO constellation is worth pursuing. 

“If this new initiative proves successful, other satellites will be added to the constellation, to reach a total of 25 satellites operational by 2022,” Eutelsat said in a news release. 

French IoT company Sigfox, which has a terrestrial narrowband service in 65 countries, is already lined up to use capacity on the ELO constellation, Eutelsat said. 

Arlen Kassighian, Eutelsat’s director of U.S. satellite programs, said at World Satellite Business Week in Paris this month that a relatively small constellation of nanosatellites is sufficient to address the IoT market because target customers have “no need of real-time connectivity” of the sort that would require larger, more powerful constellations costing billions of dollars.

“The overall magnitude [we need] to engage to do this constellation is not the same overall magnitude of our friends in LEO broadband applications,” Kassighian said, referring to Telesat, OneWeb, SpaceX and others planning to deploy 100s or 1,000s of satellites for global internet connectivity. “The incremental capital investment is far more achievable to us.”

With an annual capital expenditure budget of 400 million euros, Eutelsat’s financial strength positions it as a significant competitive threat to the dozen or so startups that have raised a few million dollars for their own Internet of Things constellations.