Telesat LEO Constellation
Telesat is taking its time selecting a contractor for its Telesat LEO broadband system. Credit: Telesat

WASHINGTON — Maxar Technologies and Thales Alenia Space abandoned plans to jointly compete to build Telesat’s low-Earth-orbit broadband constellation, setting up a now three-way race for a multibillion-dollar contract expected to be awarded soon.

Paul Estey, Maxar’s executive vice president of customer relations for space infrastructure, confirmed the split up Oct. 23.

“We believe bidding separately from Thales Alenia Space (TAS) on work related to this LEO constellation is in the best interest of the company and its shareholders at this time given the size, scope and financial metrics of the proposed relationship with TAS,” he said in an emailed statement.

Maxar and Thales Alenia Space were competing together against Airbus Defence and Space for the Telesat LEO contract, estimated to be worth $3 billion. Telesat was expected to decide by the end of this year on who would build some or all of its 300-satellite constellation.

Dan Goldberg, Telesat’s CEO, declined to comment on the breakup of the Maxar-Thales Alenia Space team when asked about it by SpaceNews Oct. 22 at the 70th International Astronautical Congress here, citing nondisclosure agreements.

Thales Alenia Space confirmed its separation from Maxar, but declined to explain the decision.

“We confirm that we are still mobilized to deliver our best proposal to Telesat based on our unique expertise in constellations as well as on the results of the derisking phase,” Thales Alenia Space spokesperson Sandrine Bielecki said in a statement.

Estey said Maxar’s MDA division will continue to supply components to Thales Alenia Space despite the breakup.

“Maxar continues to work closely with Telesat on its future architecture plans and continues to make progress on Telesat LEO,” Estey said. “We remain confident in the strength of our solution, which leverages the company’s strong commercial heritage in LEO constellations, it’s nimble supplier-base, as well as advanced technologies from Maxar’s Canadian business, MDA.”

It’s not clear what impact the collapse of Maxar and Thales Alenia Space’s teaming agreement will have on Telesat’s constellation timeline, which is starting to accumulate delays. Telesat originally planned to select a manufacturer in 2018, and start commercial service in 2021. The company’s most recent plans, before the Maxar-Thales Alenia Space split, called for a downselect late this year and partial service in 2022, with full service following in 2023.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...