PARIS — Thales Alenia Space said Sept. 12 it has signed a contract to deliver a communications satellite for South Korea’s KT SAT in the fourth quarter of 2024.

The Koreasat 6A spacecraft will have 20 transponders for fixed satellite services and six for TV broadcasting to replace Koreasat 6, which launched to geostationary orbit (GEO) at 116 degrees East in December 2010.

Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy built Koreasat 6 and has a long history of providing satellites for South Korea.

In addition to delivering three other communications satellites — Koreasat 5, 5A, and 7 — Thales Alenia Space has helped provide Earth observation, navigation, and meteorological spacecraft for the country. 

The company is also supporting South Korea’s lunar exploration program, which is on track to send a robotic spacecraft to lunar orbit in December.

KT SAT CEO David Kyungmin Song said it picked Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor for Koreasat 6A after running a competitive process with multiple bidders.

Koreasat 6A will be based on the manufacturer’s Spacebus 4000B2 platform and is expected to weigh about 3.5 metric tons at launch. The manufacturer said it will be designed to operate for at least 15 years.

Thales Alenia Space is also training and supporting KT Sat’s on-site engineering team as part of its contract, and will provide operational assistance throughout the satellite’s operational lifetime.

While Koreasat 6A’s services will be focused on South Korea, KT SAT has coverage over other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa with its fleet of four fully owned satellites built by Thales Alenia Space, and capacity the operator leases from a satellite manufactured by what is now Maxar Technologies.

Thales Alenia Space said it had signed a launch contract for Koreasat 6A that it expects to announce shortly.

GEO rebound

Speaking to SpaceNews on the sidelines of World Satellite Business Week here, Thales Alenia Space CEO Hervé Derrey said the company has secured orders for eight GEO satcoms satellites in the last 10 months.

Most of these are based on Thales Alenia Space’s Space Inspire platform, part of a new breed of software-defined satellites that can be reprogrammed in orbit to respond to changing data demands.

However, Koreasat 6A, ASTRA 1P for SES, and HTS 113BT for Indonesia’s Telkomsat are classic GEO satellites without a software-defined payload, which Derrey said promises better economics for operators with more stable demand forecasts that are also looking to deploy their spacecraft faster.

Despite Koreasat 6A’s speedy two-year delivery schedule, Derrey is confident Thales Alenia Space can avoid getting caught up in supply chain issues that have slowed down other satellite projects across the industry. 

“It’s a product that is fully developed — for which we also have some stock in terms of components,” he said.

Still, Derrey expects software-defined satellites will cover “at least 60% of the GEO market” in the coming years.

These flexible satellites are helping to drive a “rebound in the GEO [satcoms] market,” he added, which appears on track to average “between 12 and 15” orders a year.

Although that is still short of the 20 GEO orders the industry was pulling in annually seven years ago, it is a significant improvement on the fewer than 10 orders a year the market has seen recently.

Derrey attributed part of the GEO slump to uncertainty in the market from incoming constellations in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).

“There was a kind of belief at that time that [NGSO] would totally replace GEO,” he said.

However, operators increasingly see GEO and NGSO capabilities as complementary, Derrey added, pointing to the synergies Eutelsat and OneWeb aim to achieve by combining their networks.

Sept. 13 update: KT SAT CEO David Kyungmin Song told World Satellite Business Week that SpaceX will launch Koreasat 6A

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...