LeoSat and partners put satellites on a diet

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, California – With partners Hispasat of Spain and Sky Perfect Jsat of Japan, LeoSat Enteprises will look for ways to make its satellites “better, faster, cheaper and lighter,” Mark Rigolle, LeoSat chief executive, told SpaceNews.

Since Luxembourg-based LeoSat designed satellites for its planned low Earth orbit constellation two to three years ago, spacecraft technology has improved. In many cases, the cost of component technology has decreased, as well. The price of laser optical heads, for example, which LeoSat needs for its inter-satellite links, have fallen dramatically, said Michael Abad-Santos, LeoSat senior vice president Americas.

LeoSat’s plans to launch 78 operational satellites and six in-orbit spares to create a high-speed, secure data network linking sites of multinational corporations and government agencies. Under the current design, LeoSat can fit eight satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 or Arianespace Ariane 6 rocket. The goal is to reduce satellite mass to fit more satellites on each launch vehicle, Rigolle said Oct. 10 at Satellite Innovation 2018 here.

“The holy grail would be to launch one plane [of 14 satellites] at a time,” Rigolle said. “That would be a fantastic goal to achieve. We are not there yet.”

Reducing the number of launches would have a dramatic impact on the cost of LeoSat’s constellation and the amount of money the startup needs to raise.

“If we can get the number of required launches down from 14 to seven or from 12 to six, we could make savings that take the $3.5 billion plus down to close to $3 billion,” Rigolle said. “If the per unit cost of building the satellites could be pushed down by a few million a piece, it chips at the cost and improves the total viability of the project.”

LeoSat announced in July that Hispasat matched Sky Perfect Jsat’s investment in its constellation. Rigolle, former chief executive of O3B Networks, said he was determined to join forces with fixed satellite service operators because he saw how important the support of fleet operator SES was to O3b.

“I don’t think O3B would have made it without the backing of SES,” Rigolle said. “One thing I’ve tried to do is to attract one or two FSS operators to put their knowledge, their dollars and their credibility behind LeoSat. Skyperfect Jsat and Hispasat, our two key strategic investors, will play a similar role in our development as SES was prepared to do for O3B in terms of optimizing the design to achieve certain things you cannot do with terrestrial technology.”

Those relationships are helping LeoSat attract customers. With a team of two salespeople, LeoSat has forged memoranda of understanding with customers worth more then $1 billion, Rigolle said. Those commitments will help the company line up export credit and debt financing for the constellation, he added.