Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (Melco) said Nov. 1 that it will build the Superbird-7 satellite for Japanese satellite service provider Space Communications Corp. (SCC), the first domestic commercial satellite manufacturing contract ever awarded to a Japanese company.

Melco said the satellite, which will weigh 5 tons and be launched into a geostationary orbit at 144 degrees east longitude in the first quarter of 2008, will carry 28 Ku-band transponders. The price was not disclosed.

The Superbird-7 design is based on the company’s DS2000 satellite frame, which was designed for commercial sales, Melco said in a Nov. 1 press release.

The company became the first Japanese satellite maker to be a prime contractor for a commercial satellite, when it was picked to be prime contractor on the Optus C1 communications satellite launched for SingTel Optus Pty. Ltd. in June 2003.

However, the Superbird-7 contract represents the first time that a Japanese satellite maker has won a contract to build a satellite for the domestic commercial market, it said.

To date all 18 of Japan’s current broadcast and commercial communications satellites are U.S. made, according to Mitsubishi and SCC.

Melco said it had been negotiating with SCC since a request for proposal this April. Melco was given first contract negotiation rights June 28 and the contract was finalized Oct. 31, according to Melco.

Melco spokesman Travis Woodward and Hideyuki Kanki, director of SCC’s Affairs and Personnel Division, both declined comment on the price of the contract, but Kanki said that the Melco design met all SCC’s needs.

“We looked at all sorts of proposals from foreign manufacturers, and after considering everything, we felt that the Mitsubishi proposal was the most satisfactory,” Kanki said in a Nov. 1 telephone interview.

Both Melco and the giant trading company Mitsubishi Corp. are shareholders in SCC, but under a 1990 agreement with the United States , contracts for commercial satellites for the Japanese market are open for international tender.

The contract represented a big win for Melco, which has long sought to break into the commercial market, but has been struggling to make an impression since winning the Optus C1 contract, according to Lance Gatling, an aerospace and defense consultant based in Tokyo.

“Despite the fact that SCC is a privately held company owned by Mitsubishi group companies, including Mitsubishi Electric, this was a very important win for Melco,” Gatling said in a Nov. 1 e-mail in response to an inquiry from Space News.

After the Optus C1 competition, the overall market for commercial satellites suffered a huge downturn, and they’ve had no commercial wins since,” he said.

“SCC is a savvy satellite buyer and operator, with extensive experience with most of major satellite makers and very important customers. I’m sure that Melco had to make a competitive, sophisticated offer to win this competition in what is now a very global, competitive buyers’ market.”

The Superbird-7 satellite will replace the Superbird-C satellite, a Boeing 601 design that was launched in July 1997, Kanki said.

SCC has yet do decide on the launcher for Superbird-7 but expects to finalize selection by the end of this year, Kanki said.

A graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where he won the Horgan Prize for Excellence in Science Writing, Paul Kallender-Umezu is co-author of “In Defense of Japan: From the Market to the Military in Space Policy” (Stanford University...