Jsat hopes its LeoSat stake will ward off cannibalization

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Japanese satellite operator Sky Perfect JSAT’s May investment in low-Earth orbit startup LeoSat was motivated in part by a desire to ensure that future satellites orbiting closer to Earth don’t compete with its geostationary business endeavors.

Koichiro Matsufuji, general manager of Sky Perfect Jsat’s Global Business Division, said May 17 at the APSAT 2017 conference here that Jsat, through its due diligence on LeoSat, concluded that the LEO system architecture will complement the operator’s existing fleet of 18 geostationary satellites.

“One of the reasons to partner with LeoSat is that there are less risks of cannibalization between GEO and LEO,” Matsufuji said. “LeoSat is focusing on the business side, enterprises which employ big data transactions with lower latency. That’s a new market, which GEO satellites cannot provide.”

LeoSat is planning a constellation of 78 to 108 high throughput Ka-band satellites in a 1,400 kilometer orbit — a system the company estimates will cost $3.5 to $3.6 billion. The company hopes to have two demonstration satellites in orbit in 2019.

Jsat is the latest large geostationary fleet operator to team with a non-geosynchronous venture, following SES’s purchase of medium-Earth orbit system O3b Networks, Intelsat’s investment and ongoing collabotation with OneWeb, Telesat’s decision to build its own 117-satellite LEO network and Thuraya’s investment in machine-to-machine satellite startup ELSE.

Matsufuji said Jsat is feeling pricing pressure in the market — brought about by terrestrial competition, oversupply of satellite capacity and the introduction of high-throughput satellite systems — that he expects will likely persist for the next two to three years. He described Luxembourg-based LeoSat as an answer both to terrestrial and satellite competition, saying that “sometimes their network will be faster than fiber in long haul, long distance between two points.”

Matsufuji said Jsat’s partnership with Kongsberg Satellite Services in Norway to provide downlink services for LEO remote sensing constellations does not currently factor into serving LeoSat, but might in the future. LeoSat CEO Mark Rigolle said May 14 that LeoSat does plan to use KSAT’s Svalbard ground station for initial services once the company has a full plane of satellites in orbit.

Jsat has not disclosed the size of its investment in LeoSat. Matsufuji said Jsat plans to market the capacity of LeoSat’s LEO system and Jsat’s GEO system separately; the two won’t be interoperable.

Jsat has two high throughput satellites of its own — JCSAT-18 as part of a condosat with Singapore startup Kacific, and Horizons-3e, an EpicNG satellite for a join venture with Intelsat — under construction with Boeing. Lockheed Martin is building another traditional satellite, JCSAT-17, with S-, C- and Ku-band capacity.