Intelsat orders two flexible GEO satellites for post-bankruptcy growth plan

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TAMPA, Fla. — Intelsat has ordered two software-defined satellites from Thales Alenia Space as the operator edges closer to emerging from bankruptcy.

The Intelsat 41 (IS-41) and Intelsat 44 (IS-44) satellites, scheduled to enter service in 2025, will be based on Thales Alenia Space’s Space Inspire platform.

They will join two other satellites that Intelsat ordered from Airbus in late 2020 for a new 5G-compatible network that can be reconfigured in-orbit. Based on Airbus’ OneSat platform, Intelsat 42 and Intelsat 43 are slated to launch in 2023.

IS-41 and IS-44 will provide commercial and government mobility services and cellular backhaul across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Intelsat said in the Jan. 12 announcement.

“With the addition of Intelsat 41 and Intelsat 44, in partnership with Thales Alenia Space, Intelsat will blanket the earth with software-defined satellites, progressing the world’s first global 5G software-defined network, designed to unify the global telecoms ecosystem,” said Intelsat CEO Steve Spengler, who plans to leave the company after it exits bankruptcy.

Samer Halawi, who recently resigned as Intelsat’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, told SpaceNews in October that it had issued a request for proposals (RFP) for 10 software-defined satellites in geostationary orbit.

They are part of a post-restructuring growth strategy that could include the operator’s own low Earth orbit constellation.

Intelsat has been operating under Chapter 11 protection since mid-May 2020, but reached a breakthrough Dec. 16, when the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia approved a restructuring plan to cut debt from $16 billion to $7 billion.

The approval put Intelsat on track to exit Chapter 11 in early 2022, once the company completes formalities that include fully securing the nearly $8 billion in financing that was committed in the restructuring plan.

Intelsat has eight other satellites under-construction in addition to the four software-defined satellites.

Maxar Technologies is building the Intelsat-40e (IS-40e) satellite that SpaceX is slated to launch this year for Intelsat’s high-throughput Epic fleet.

Intelsat has also ordered seven spacecraft to help clear C-band spectrum for terrestrial cellular 5G operators in the U.S. — five from Maxar and two from Northrop Grumman.

Intelsat recently said in a regulatory filing that it had received a $1.2 billion milestone payment from the Federal Communications Commission for clearing part of the spectrum. 

The company said the proceeds could be used for capital expenditures (which would include satellite orders), reducing debt or other corporate purposes.

Intelsat expects to receive nearly $5 billion in total from clearing C-band spectrum.

However, satellite operator SES is disputing Intelsat’s share of the proceeds through legal action, and a hearing before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is scheduled to start Feb. 7.