Globalstar Opts To Deploy New Low Earth-Orbit Constellation

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  Space News Business

Globalstar Opts To Deploy New Low Earth-Orbit Constellation

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 18 October 2006
03:23 pm ET


PARIS — Officials with the Globalstar satel lite-telephone company are asking prospective investors to believe that a business model that failed in the last decade will work in the next.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Globalstar Inc.’s initial public offering (IPO) of stock on the U.S. Nasdaq exchange seeks to raise a net $100 million that the company will use to help finance a new constellation of 48 low-orbiting satellites to replace its current in-orbit fleet starting in 2009.

Globalstar’s predecessor company nearly sank under the weight of its debt from building its current constellation and emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in late 2003 following an investment by Thermo Capital Partners of New Orleans and Denver.

Globalstar announced Oct. 10 that it is paying satellite manufacturer Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy a 7.7 million euro ($9.7 million) deposit to begin work on the replacement satellites, with a binding contract to be signed by Nov. 15.

In documents it filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Globalstar says it expects the new constellation to cost $1 billion to $1.2 billion between 2007 and 2014, a sum that includes satellite construction, insurance and launch. That works out to between $20 million and $25 million per satellite.

Globalstar also will need to upgrade its global network of ground stations to operate with the expanded voice and data capacity of the new satellites.

The company meanwhile plans to introduce a second-generation telephone handset late this year.

With satellite-launch prices worldwide on the rise, industry officials say, it will be difficult for Globalstar to secure a launch for much less than $12.5 million per satellite, plus insurance.

Globalstar is preparing to launch eight first-generation satellites built by prime contractor Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif. The satellites, now at Alcatel Alenia Space’s plant outside Rome, are scheduled to be launched on two Russian Soyuz vehicles, each carrying four satellites, in 2007.

Globalstar said in its SEC filing that launching these satellites is costing $110 million in total.

A key feature of the new constellation will be its extended in-orbit life.

Blaise Jaeger, vice president for telecommunications satellites at Alcatel Alenia Space, said the second-generation Globalstar spacecraft will operate for at least 15 years at the same 1,414-kilometer orbit as the current satellites.

That would be an exceptionally long service life for that orbit, which subjects satellites to radiation and other stresses that generally keep them from reaching the 15-year average life for satellites in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator.

The current Globalstar satellites, launched between 1998 and 2000, were designed to operate for 7.5 years but in many cases have exceeded that.

Globalstar says its constellation’s health requires that the new generation begin replacing the current fleet in 2009 or 2010.

In an Oct. 10 interview, Jaeger said service life was a key parameter in making the case for a new low Earth-orbit constellation as opposed to one in geostationary orbit. “We were able to work a series of improvements to the design to better protect against radiation,” Jaeger said, adding that the new Globalstar satellites would have about the same weight — 450 kilograms at launch — as the current generation.

Jaeger said that while a start-up company probably would opt for three or four geostationary-orbiting satellites for a global system, Globalstar’s sunk investment in a low-orbiting constellation, and the costs of shifting to a new architecture, made the case for sticking with the original low-orbit design.

“With a LEO [low-orbit] system they are able to add new satellites gradually in a way that will not disturb current customers,” Jaeger said.

Globalstar reported revenues of $127 million in 2005 and $68.7 million for the first six months of 2006. About 15 percent of the company’s revenues are from U.S. government customers. Its subscriber base has grown from 195,000 on Dec. 31 to 236,500 as of June 30. Company officials have said they expect to reach 270,000 subscribers by the end of the year.

Globalstar’s current 40 operational satellites — nine satellites have failed in orbit since commercial service started — are capable of providing global coverage, but the company does not have gateway station operators in several key prospective markets including most of central and southern Africa, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

To fund its new constellation, Globalstar expects to use the $100 million from its IPO, plus a $100 million bank facility the company has secured and a $200 million investment promised by majority shareholder Thermo Capital Partners.

These funds, plus an expected $600 million in cash from operations between 2007 and 2014, should be sufficient to get the new satellite fleet in orbit and operational, Globalstar said in its SEC filing.

Meanwhile, Globalstar is seeking to reverse a U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that revoked its license to operate a hybrid satellite-terrestrial voice and data network in the United States using the S-band, or 2-gigahertz, section of the radio spectrum.

Globalstar says it will appeal the FCC decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals if needed. A hybrid system featuring a network of ground-based signal boosters, or Ancillary Terrestrial Component , is still a goal using the company’s current L-band spectrum even without an S-band license, Globalstar says.