IAI says its Mini Communications Satellite will weigh 600 to 700 kilograms and include an advanced digital payload. Credit: IAI

DUBAI, U.A.E. — Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has developed a small geostationary orbit communications satellite bus intended to provide a low-cost spacecraft with an advanced payload to customers that don’t require a larger satellite.

The company announced its Mini Communications Satellite (MCS) design at the 72nd International Astronautical Congress here. The spacecraft, with a mass of 600 to 700 kilograms, is expected to cost less than $100 million, including launch as a rideshare payload.

Shlomi Sudri, vice president and general manager of the space division at IAI, said in an interview the company is targeting smaller operators with specific needs for which a larger satellite would be too big and expensive. “Not all customers need the big GEO satellites than weigh around five tons,” he said. “We tried to see what the sweet spot is for the customer.”

That resulted in a much smaller spacecraft with four steerable antennas. However, the spacecraft has a fully digital payload that can provide Ka- or Ku-band services. “The customer needs to define in the beginning the band, and practically that’s it,” he said, with the payload able to be reconfigured as needed over its 14-year design life.

MCS is based on technologies IAI is developing for Dror-1, a communications satellite it is building for the Israeli government under a contract awarded in January 2020. That includes the digital payload as well as avionics. “A lot of building blocks that we developed for Dror-1 are implemented in this Mini Communications Satellite,” he said, “in order to do as much reuse as we can.”

Dror-1 itself is in a “very advanced state” of design, Sudri said, with most of the components having passed their critical design reviews. “We anticipate in the coming year we’ll start to integrate the components and subsystems,” he said, but declined to give a schedule for the spacecraft’s launch.

IAI has not announced any customers for MCS yet. He said the company focused on maturing the design of the spacecraft before starting to discuss it with potential customers.

“We understand that there is a lot of interest in this small variant,” he said. “We have a couple of customers that we are in negotiation with.” He estimated that the first MCS satellites would be ready for launch two to three years after contract signing.

IAI is the latest company to offer a small GEO satellite product. The best known is Astranis, a startup that has secured orders for several of its MicroGEO satellites, including an order for up to eight satellites from Anuvu in July.

Sudri declined to compare IAI’s MCS with small GEO satellites from Astranis and others. However, IAI did emphasize in a statement about the new satellite its more than 30 years of experience in satellite development.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...