Intelsat orders small GEO satellite from 3D printing specialist

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TAMPA, Fla. — 3D printing specialist Swissto12 said Nov. 7 it has sold its first small satellite to Intelsat for a launch to geostationary orbit (GEO) in 2025.

Intelsat 45 (IS-45) will be based on Swissto12’s HummingSat satellite platform, which at about the size of a dishwasher is one-tenth the size of conventional GEO satellites.

At just one cubic meter in volume, Swissto12 CEO Emile de Rijk said HummingSats are “at least 3 times cheaper” than larger telecoms commercial satellites in GEO.

HummingSats will also have the same coverage area as traditional spacecraft in GEO, de Rijk said via email, although with less capacity because of their reduced space for transponders and power.

Intelsat 45 will have 12 Ku-band transponders, about a fourth as many as a classic mid-sized Intelsat satellite.

Jean-Luc Foreliger, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems, said Intelsat 45 will complement the larger satellites in its fleet by providing services for regional direct-to-home broadcasts and government needs.

“We’ve identified a couple of locations, and as we get closer to launch we’ll decide which location to go to,” he said in a Nov. 7 media call announcing the order.

The European Space Agency helped Swissto12 develop HummingSat and in July said the platform had passed its systems requirements review.

The Swiss company has never built a commercial satellite, and to date has only produced parts of them with additive manufacturing, including radio frequency payload modules and thermal subsystem products.

Satellite makers are increasingly adopting 3D printing technology because it can help accelerate production, cut costs, and improve performance.

But while Swissto12 plans to leverage its expertise in this area for HummingSat, de Rijk said it will reuse “significant products and subsystems that bear GEO heritage and so some units, products and subsystems” will not be 3D-printed. 

News of the company’s first commercial satellite customer comes after it announced plans last year to collaborate with U.S.-based GEO smallsat manufacturing startup Saturn Satellite Network.

However, de Rijk said Saturn is not working on Intelsat 45.

Other startups see opportunities for small satellites in GEO that can help operators plug regional gaps in their constellations — or provide targeted services in specific areas.

San Francisco-based Astranis is counting down to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch late this year of its first GEO smallsat, which telco Pacific Dataport Inc (PDI) plans to use for broadband coverage over Alaska.

The satellite for PDI, called Arcturus, will tag along as a secondary payload with Viasat’s first ViaSat-3 satellite as the rocket’s primary passenger.