PARIS — Satellite-fleet operator SES New Skies expects to order two large hybrid C- and Ku-band satellites this year as it remaps its strategy in the wake of the Jan. 30 loss of the NSS-8 spacecraft, New Skies Chief Executive Robert Bednarek said in an April 27 interview .
The first order, expected in the coming weeks, will replace the NSS-8. The second, for which Bednarek expects corporate approval in June, will be concluded later in this year, with the satellite’s orbital location to be determined later.
The Hague, Netherlands-based subsidiary of SES Global of Luxembourg has not ruled out exercising an option with Boeing Satellite Systems International for an NSS-8 replacement but also has solicited bids from other satellite manufacturers for a satellite that Bednarek said will bear strong resemblance to the lost spacecraft.
The company’s priority, he said, is to add capacity to the 57 degrees east orbital slot, where NSS-8 was to operate, as quickly as possible.
“The schedule is of paramount importance,” Bednarek said in an April 27 interview. “What we want is something as close to the NSS-8 design as we can get. I was not here when the original NSS-8 contract was signed, but I can tell you there were no complaints from me about the satellite’s size. You can see an awful lot from 57 degrees east, and demand is strong throughout that coverage area.”
NSS-8 was destroyed in the Jan. 30 failure of a Sea Launch rocket. The satellite, a Boeing 702 model, carried 56 C-band and 36 Ku-band transponders. Under the original early-2001 contract with El Segundo, Calif.-based Boeing Satellite Systems, SES New Skies has the right to order an NSS-8 clone within 90 days of the failure of NSS-8. Once the option is exercised, Boeing would be obliged to deliver the satellite within 26 months.
Bednarek conceded it would be a challenge for any satellite builder to construct a satellite similar to the 6,000-kilogram, 17.6-kilowatt NSS-8 in 26 months — especially given the well-known experience Boeing has had with NSS-8.
The manufacturer fell substantially behind schedule and New Skies threatened to terminate the contract for default. Boeing refunded New Skies’ entire payment, and secured and insured the launch. Boeing received no up-front cash payment, only the guarantee of an annual fee for 15 years, assuming the satellite performed as designed.
Boeing satellite managers since have become more conservative in their approach to the commercial market, saying they will commit only to those schedules they are sure they can meet.
“I think that philosophy is the right one,” Bednarek said. “Satellite operators and the satellite manufacturers depend on each other, and we all benefit if we stick to the schedules we announce.”
Bednarek said New Skies nonetheless has had positive responses from manufacturers about being able to furnish an NSS-8 replacement by mid-2009.
The 57 degrees east orbital slot, where NSS-8 was supposed to go, is currently occupied by the NSS-703 satellite, which is scheduled to be retired in July 2009.
Bednarek said the NSS-703’s service life might be extended by several months, but that the company wants fresh capacity there before the end of 2009.
“From this slot you can see Central and South Asia, Africa, the Middle East — all areas that are experiencing growth in demand for DTH [direct-to-home television] and enterprise networks,” Bednarek said. “This is not a situation of overcapacity at all.”
New Skies currently has one satellite — NSS-9, being built by Orbital Sciences Corp. — under construction and scheduled for delivery in late 2008 or early 2009. SES Global is currently negotiating framework accords with at least two launch-service providers to guarantee the availability of two launch slots per year for the foreseeable future. The NSS-9 satellite will be among the first that will be included in one of these multi-year contracts, industry officials said.
The all-C-band NSS-9 is scheduled to operate from 183 degrees east longitude, replacing the NSS-5 satellite currently at that slot. NSS-5, which has a mixed C- and Ku-band payload, then could be moved into the 57 degrees east slot if the NSS-8 replacement cannot be delivered by late 2009.
To avoid a repeat of future capacity issues, Bednarek said, New Skies will propose to the SES Global board of directors in June that a new C- and Ku-band satellite be ordered.
“I don’t want to be in the position I am in now if I can avoid it, with the consequences of one launch failure,” Bednarek said. “I’d like to have a little more margin in our fleet. So this year we are likely to order another large hybrid satellite. Where it goes, what it replaces — that will be decided later.”