Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) expects to be able to install a network of satellite signal boosters around the United States to operate with its existing spacecraft even as it seeks to find strategic partners for its more powerful second-generation system, MSV Chief Executive Officer Alexander H. Good said.
Reston, Va.-based MSV is part of a two-pronged mobile satellite communications strategy being employed by two of its owners, Motient Corp. of Lincolnshire, Ill., and SkyTerra Communications of New York.
If the companies’ plans hold, Motient and SkyTerra will have substantial ownership stakes in two competing satellite systems that link separate geostationary-orbiting spacecraft to networks of signal boosters, called ancillary terrestrial components, that will be located throughout the United States and Canada.
Approval of the plans for both systems is pending at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
MSV and Motient announced May 11 that Motient had paid $200 million to become a majority shareholder in TerreStar Networks Inc., which MSV subsequently spun off as a separate company. SkyTerra initially will have a 17 percent equity stake in TerreStar.
TerreStar has contracted with Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., to build a large satellite operating in the 2-gigahertz, or S-band, portion of the radio spectrum. The FCC authorization for this spacecraft, originally given to TerreStar shareholder TMI Communications of Canada, requires that the satellite be launched by November 2007.
Motient estimates that the TerreStar system will cost more than $500 million, plus the cost of a second satellite — not yet ordered — to act as a backup to the first. TerreStar has not yet applied to the FCC for permission to build a network of terrestrial components.
The FCC has said that an S-band mobile satellite service must launch and operate its satellite before being given approval for the terrestrial communications network.
MSV, which is 49 percent owned by Motient, will have no ownership stake in TerreStar, Good said.
The company will devote its resources — $125 million in cash left from a $230 million financing round that eliminated its debt — to developing an L-band satellite system.
MSV has FCC approval to install the ground network that will permit the L-band service to be used in places satellites cannot reach. The FCC decision is being appealed by MSV competitor Inmarsat Ventures of London, among others.
While MSV has received FCC approval to use ground-based signal boosters with its future satellites, it is still waiting for authorization to build the second-generation spacecraft and operate it from an orbital slot at 107.3 degrees west longitude.
Good said the company is counting on approval by the end of this year. In the meantime, he said MSV is briefing satellite manufacturers and prospective builders of terrestrial signal boosters on the L-band system. Once the FCC approval is granted, MSV will solicit bids for the satellite, Good said.
In the meantime, MSV must find strategic backers to finance the new system, as its current revenues and borrowing power are not up to that task.
MSV and its MSV Canada affiliate operate two L-band satellites launched in the mid-1990s, one of which is in an inclined orbit to economize on its remaining fuel. Good said the company currently has about 120,000 terminals in service today that deliver two-way voice and data communications from the two satellites.
According to a SkyTerra submission to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, MSV reported a net loss of $16.2 million on revenues of $7.19 million for the three months ending March 31.
Good said that despite the age and condition of MSV’s two operating satellites, the company believes it has FCC authority to begin building out the network of terrestrial components well before its next-generation satellite is launched.
“Our interpretation is that we are permitted to have a companion device” that will use both the terrestrial wireless components and the current MSV satellites, Good said May 18. “There is a specific provision in the order that allows us to operate with our existing satellites.”
Using ancillary terrestrial components with MSV’s two existing satellites through strap-on gear attached to users’ telephones and computers would permit MSV to gain experience in operating a hybrid satellite/terrestrial mobile service before its next-generation satellite is in orbit.