ILS Wrests Intelsat Contract from Land Launch

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PARIS — The Intelsat IS-16 satellite will be launched aboard an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket in 2010 under a contract expected to be valued at $75 million, according to industry officials. The deal is the latest example of ILS cutting prices to capture contracts to launch satellites that once would have been considered too small for the heavy-lift Proton vehicle.

In a March 19 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Intelsat refers to an unidentified $75 million launch it agreed to in recent weeks. Industry officials said the satellite in question is the IS-16, a 2,450-kilogram spacecraft under construction by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

IS-16 had been scheduled for launch aboard the new Land Launch system — being marketed by Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach, Calif. — under a contract announced in February 2008. Land Launch has since encountered schedule delays that have forced some customers to review their launch options.

An ILS Proton rocket can place satellites weighing more than 6,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit. Until recently, ILS had viewed relatively small spacecraft like Orbital Sciences’ Star 2 platform as too small to be considered for Proton launches.

But the decline in the Russian ruble has permitted ILS to drop its prices, bringing them within the range of the going rate for launching satellites like IS-16. ILS signed a similar contract, for $80 million, in February with AsiaSat of Hong Kong to launch the AsiaSat 5 satellite later this year. AsiaSat 5 also had been scheduled for Land Launch.

IS-16, carrying 18 Ku-band transponders, will be operated at the 43 degrees west longitude orbital slot to back up DirecTV Latin America’s satellite-television business