Carl Marchetto. Credit: Lockheed Martin

PARIS — A commercial communications satellite being built by Lockheed Martin for fleet operator Arabsat and slated for launch in 2018 will debut a new digital processor that provides on-orbit flexibility including the ability to reconfigure the payload and change frequencies to defeat jamming threats, a Lockheed Martin official said.

Carl A. Marchetto, vice president and general manager of commercial space at Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems, also said the company is seeing a lot of interest from potential buyers for a mostly built satellite that was ordered by a now-defunct Australian operator that defaulted on its contract.

Lockheed Martin is building two satellites for Arabsat of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under a contract officially announced in April, including Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1, which will feature the digital processor. The other satellite is Arabsat 6A, also slated for a 2018 launch.

Both spacecraft are based on Lockheed Martin’s A2100 platform, which is being revamped to make it more capable and attractive to price- and schedule-conscious commercial customers.

Marchetto said Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 and Arabsat 6A will be among the company’s highest-power commercial satellites launched to date, delivering more than 16 kilowatts to their payloads.

Unlike Arabsat 6A, which has a strictly commercial customer set, Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 has a mix of military and commercial users and will operate in a region where jamming has been a big problem in recent years, Marchetto said in a Sept. 15 interview here at the World Satellite Business Week conference sponsored by the Euroconsult consultancy.

“On that second [Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1] satellite, because they’re in a region where there’s a lot of interference, they came to us and said, ‘Is there something you can help us with that would protect our communications and secure them?’” Marchetto said. “So therein lies this processor that we’re going to have onboard when we launch in 2018. It’s unique. And they will in fact load the algorithms once the satellite is up.”

Lockheed Martin will not have access to the algorithms themselves, which can be changed on orbit by the operator.

The new processor is designed to be scalable to a variety of missions for both government and commercial customers, Marchetto said. It can be used for communications and remote sensing missions, he added.

Commercial as well as government/military customers are increasingly demanding on-orbit reconfigurability and jamming protection, the latter of which can be achieved by changing frequencies to stay a step ahead of would-be jammers, Marchetto said. The processor also can redirect spot beams and support mobile applications, he said

Other companies, including Lockheed Martin archrival Boeing, have built or are building reconfigurable satellites, but Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 represents a first for Lockheed Martin across its customer set, Marchetto said. “I honestly believe this is a breakthrough for us,” he said.

Lockheed Martin has been refocusing on the commercial satellite market in recent years as orders from its bread-and-butter U.S. government customer slow down. The company is in the late stages of a refresh of its signature A2100 satellite platform that Marchetto says will shave 35 percent from its cost and 25 percent from its manufacturing time.

Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1, slated to launch on an Ariane 5 rocket, also will feature a hybrid chemical-electric propulsion system that uses conventional chemical propellant to reach its final geostationary operating orbit and xenon for station-keeping.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has taken sole possession of the Ka-band Jabiru-1 satellite it was building for now-bankrupt operator NewSat of Australia.

The satellite is 70 percent complete, and Marchetto said Lockheed Martin has been approached by 13 companies that could potentially repurpose the hardware, which is configured to operate in geostationary orbit over the Asia-Pacific region. A buyer planning to use the satellite in that region would require fewer modifications than one targeting a different area.

Marchetto said he believes Lockheed Martin will find a buyer within six months. “It will find a new home with the right partner, with the right operator, and we’ll be involved in it and we’ll get ready,” he said. “There are a lot of ideas that are coming to us.”

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...