Falcon Heavy customer Ovzon orders GEO satellite from SSL

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WASHINGTON — Swedish startup Ovzon, which in October bought a Falcon Heavy launch from SpaceX, has now purchased a satellite for that mission from Maxar Technologies’ Space Systems Loral division.

The manufacturing contract, announced Dec. 17, is for a geostationary communications satellite designed for mobile broadband services. In a press release, Ovzon said the satellite is expected to be complete in 2021, and that the date of the Falcon Heavy launch, originally set for no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2020, has “been adjusted accordingly.”

Ovzon made no mention of how its plans with Space Systems Loral (SSL) will be affected by Maxar’s near-term divestment from SSL’s geostationary satellite manufacturing business. Maxar said late last month that it still intended to announce by year’s end whether it would sell the business outright or liquidate SSL’s valuable Silicon Valley real estate holdings. On Dec. 6, Maxar said it sold a 4.5-acre site across the street from SSL’s main Palo Alto, California, campus for $70 million and planned to relocate the 400 affected employees. Maxar didn’t identify the buyer, but Google confirmed to local media that it bought the land. Prior to the sale, Maxar estimated it could raise $150 million to $200 million by selling off the 29 acres it owned in Palo Alto.

Ovzon said its contract with SSL is conditional on raising money for the satellite. The full mission, including manufacturing, launch, financing and insurance, will cost approximately 1.5 billion Swedish krona ($166 million), the company estimates.

“Our collaboration with Ovzon underscores the demand for a new class of communication satellite that is flexible, affordable and highly advanced” Dario Zamarian, SSL group president, said in a statement. ”SSL brings the innovation and heritage required to help Ovzon deliver a new class of mobile broadband service to its customers.”  

Ovzon expects to complete half the financing through a rights offer, and the other half through a combination of existing funds and external loans.

It is not clear whether Ovzon will be the only passenger on its Falcon Heavy mission, or if the company will split the cost with one or more passengers. In an October interview, Ovzon CEO Per Wahlberg cautioned not to read into the satellite’s size based on that of the rocket.

“Don’t just assume because it is a big rocket that our satellite is huge,” he said.

Ovzon has named the satellite Ovzon-3. It is the first satellite Ovzon has purchased, but is designated as the third because of capacity leases on other satellites. In an October interview, Ovzon CEO Per Wahlberg said the company is leasing capacity from Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat, on five satellites and plans to lease additional capacity while awaiting Ovzon-3.

Wahlberg, a co-founder of the satellite terminal company Swe-Dish, said Ovzon has been working on its own satellite with a unique onboard processor since 2014. The company has also developed small terminals for mobile connectivity that it believes will offer better service when paired with its own Ku-band satellite.

“We created a service that is better than the competition, but far away from what we can do once we get up our own satellite,” he said. “Currently our achilles heel is really the coverage. We are covering a regional peice of the Earth and we think the need for these services is in a lot of places.”

With leased capacity, Ovzon has coverage mainly over the Middle East and Northern Africa as well as parts of Europe, he said. The company’s goal is to have global coverage.

Ovzon paid Eutelsat $1.6 million earlier this year to place one of its satellites at an unspecified Ovzon orbital slot in order to preserve spectrum rights at that location. Wahlberg said Ovzon obtained six orbital slots through the International Telecommunication Union to realize its vision of being a global satellite operator.