International Launch Services To Launch Two Gazprom Satellites

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PARIS — Russian satellite fleet operator Gazprom Space Systems has contracted with International Launch Services (ILS) for the launch of Gazprom’s Yamal 401 and Yamal 402 telecommunications satellites in what appears to represent an expansion of ILS’s business into the Russian market, ILS and satellite builder Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy announced May 28.

Moscow-based Gazprom will be financing a large portion of the construction of the satellites through a loan guarantee from France’s Coface export-credit agency.

Thales Alenia Space will be providing the electronics payload for the Yamal 401 spacecraft, whose platform will be built by ISS Reshetnev of Russia. Yamal 401, expected to weigh 3,150 kilograms, will be launched by an ILS Proton rocket directly into geostationary orbit in 2012 or 2013. The satellite, to be operated at 90 degrees east, will carry 36 Ku-band and 17 C-band transponders.

Yamal 402 will be a larger satellite, weighing about 5,250 kilograms, and will be fully manufactured by Thales Alenia Space. The ILS Proton rocket will launch it into geostationary transfer orbit, meaning the satellite, carrying 46 Ku-band transponders, will use its onboard thrusters to reach its final operating location of 55 degrees east longitude.

ILS said a dedicated launch of Yamal 402 aboard a Proton will leave the satellite with more in-orbit service life than would be the case if it were launched as one of two passengers aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket. An official with the Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, confirmed May 28 that the company competed for the Yamal 402 business.

Using Arianespace would have permitted Gazprom to increase the amount of loan guarantees it received from Coface given the increased French work share.

How and why the company came to select its current satellite and launcher configuration remain unclear, as contract negotiations for the two Yamal satellites were unusual from the start. Unable to find suitable financing in Russia, Gazprom initially agreed to have Thales Alenia Space build both Yamal spacecraft, and to launch both aboard Ariane 5 rockets to maximize the Coface participation.

But in the months following the initial decision, industry officials said Russian government authorities had balked at the idea of having a Russian satellite operator go outside Russia for both the launches and the satellites.

The modification on the satellite side added ISS Reshetnev as prime contractor for the Yamal 401 satellite platform while keeping a Thales Alenia Space payload. Thales Alenia Space was able to maintain its work share on the larger Yamal 402.

What remains unclear is what advantage accrued to Gazprom in negotiating the launch contracts in U.S. dollars and selecting ILS, rather than negotiating with Proton builder Khrunichev for a contract in Russian rubles.

Karen Monaghan, spokeswoman for Reston, Va.-based ILS, said both launches were contracted in U.S. dollars on a purely commercial basis. She said ILS, which normally is not involved in launches of Russian domestic satellites, is permitted under its mandate to launch Russian telecommunications spacecraft whose coverage extends beyond Russian territory.

Satellites intended to cover Russia are part of the Russian government’s space program and thus outside ILS’s territory.

Both Gazprom Space Systems and Russia’s larger national satellite fleet operator, Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow, have been expanding their coverage beyond Russia in recent years with the growth of the global satellite communications industry. Few of their recent satellites have been exclusively devoted to Russian territory.

One industry official said that for Gazprom, there is not much difference between negotiating with Khrunichev and dealing with ILS given that ILS, which was created as a joint venture between Khrunichev, Rocket and Space Corporation Energia of Russia and Lockheed Martin of the United States, is now owned by Khrunichev.