News From The Euroconsult Satellite-Finance Conference

by












  Space News Business

News From The Euroconsult Satellite-Finance Conference

posted: 14 September 2007
03:20 pm ET













Soyuz Chosen To Loft Next Globalstar System




Twenty-four second-generation Globalstar mobile-telephone and data satellites will be launched aboard Russian Soyuz rockets operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, with the first launch scheduled in mid-2009, Globalstar Inc. and the Arianespace launch consortium announced Sept. 4.

Taking advantage of the greater lift capacity provided by the spaceport’s proximity to the equator, each Soyuz will lift six 700-kilogram Globalstar satellites into a 920-kilometer orbit inclined at 52 degrees relative to the equator. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said Sept. 4 that three of the four Globalstar launches for which a firm contract has been signed will occur in 2009, with the fourth in 2010. Le Gall said during a press briefing here that Globalstar and Arianespace have signed an agreement to launch the remaining 24 second-generation Globalstar satellites once these become available.



Thales
Alenia Space of Cannes, France, is under an $880 million contract to manufacture Globalstar’s second-generation constellation of 48 satellites in two groups of 24, with the length of time separating the first and




second group still under negotiation. Globalstar, in its Sept. 4 announcement of the Arianespace contract, suggested that the company will make do with 24 second-generation spacecraft at the outset and combine them with the final eight first-generation satellites.



“In addition to augmenting the current constellation, the eight first-generation spare satellites also will be integrated into the second-generation constellation,” Globalstar said in its Sept. 4 announcement. “A total of 32 satellites will then contribute to the company’s initial deployment of its new constellation. The remaining unlaunched second-generation satellites will provide Globalstar with the capability to extend the lifespan of its constellation well beyond 2025.”



Globalstar launched four satellites in May and the launch of the last four first-generation satellites is scheduled for Oct. 21, Le Gall said. This launch is being handled by the French-Russian Starsemcompany, which manages commercial Soyuz launches from the Russian-run BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Le Gall is also chief executive of Starsem.

Jay Monroe, chief executive of Milpitas, Calif.-based Globalstar, said Sept. 5 that the company’s satellite construction and launch contracts will permit Globalstar to remain “more or less” within its budget of $1.2 billion to build, launch and insure its 48 second-generation satellites. He said the exact cost of the system would depend in part on when the second group of 24 satellites is built and launched.

Under its contract with ThalesAlenia Space, Globalstar will pay slightly less to the satellite builder if all 48 satellites are delivered within a shorter period of time. That is because ThalesAlenia will incur costs if it must suspend production, then restart it several months later to complete the contract.




WildBlue Scrambles To Add Broadband Capacity




U.S. satellite-broadband provider WildBlue plans to select a contractor this year for a new satellite that will be far larger than its current spacecraft, which is fast running out of capacity for certain geographic regions and will require WildBlue to lease interim




capacity from DirecTV




or EchoStar




, WildBlue Chief Executive David Leonard said.

Denver-based WildBlue Communications Inc., which is adding up to 30,000 new subscribers a week to its consumer broadband service,




already has notified prospective customers in some regions that it has reached the capacity limit on certain




satellite beams.

Leonard, in an interview here Sept. 5 during the Euroconsult satellite-finance conference, said WildBlue and its industrial partners have crafted a software modification to the satellite that will increase its capacity by about 50 percent, to 750,000 subscribers. This enhancement of the current satellite’s ability to handle traffic will be uploaded later this year, Leonard said.

WildBlue’s
Ka-band satellite capacity is divided into dozens of beams that each cover specific geographic areas. The satellite is unable to transfer underused capacity on one beam to satisfy strong demand on another, which is why WildBlue is running out of space on some beams even though its current subscriber count is nearing 250,000, with each customer paying an average $58-$59 per month for the service.

Beyond the software enhancement, WildBlue has opened discussions with the two big U.S. direct-broadcast television providers, DirecTV Group and EchoStar Communications Corp., with a view to leasing their excess




Ka-band capacity for a limited period of time until a new WildBlue satellite can be built and launched.

WildBlue
lost its reservation for an orbital slot at 109 degrees west longitude when it did not meet its milestone deadlines set by U.S. regulators. Leonard said the loss of this slot is not a worry because Ka-band orbital positions covering North America are available and relatively inexpensive




.

WildBlue’s
satellite-broadband competitor, Hughes Network Systems (HNS) of Germantown, Md., also has said that securing a Ka-band orbital position in the region is not expected to be a problem. Like WildBlue, HNS’sHughesNet service is growing fast and HNS is evaluating how and when to add satellite capacity.

“It’s a high-class problem to have,” Leonard said of the fact that WildBlue is essentially sold out on several of its beams.



Some satellite manufacturers, including Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., have begun designing new Ka-band satellites that would not include much on




board processing but essentially would




be orbital relay mirrors, much like




television-broadcast satellites.



Leonard predicted that within five years




satellites capable of beaming 100-200 gigabits per second of capacity will be on the market. He also said that in the United States alone, there would be 5 million to 10 million satellite broadband subscribers.

For comparison, HNS’sSpaceway 3 satellite, launched in August and scheduled to enter operation in early 2008, has a gross capacity of 10 gigabits uplink and 10 gigabits downlink.











Greek Satellite Operator Expects Profit This Year




Greek commercial satellite operator Hellas Sat, which was written off by satellite-industry experts as an indulgence in national pride by Greece in the run-up to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, has succeeded in filling its satellite and becoming profitable and now is reviewing options for expanding its capacity, Hellas Sat Chief Executive ChristodoulosProtopapas said.

Launched in May 2003, Hellas Sat 2 – the first Hellas Sat was an aging German broadcast satellite whose main function for Hellas Sat was to reserve its 39 degree east orbital slot – has succeeded by focusing on the Central and East European markets, providing nations in these regions




with direct-broadcast television capacity. Part of the satellite’s capacity




also is focused on South Africa.



Protopapas said Hellas Sat




also has made a profitable business from selling capacity for special-events coverage, meaning




events that are the focus of heavy




regional or global media attention




and produce demand for satellite capacity to transmit news broadcasts.



Protopapas said Hellas Sat broadcast 578 special events in 2004, more than 2,000 in 2005 and more than 6,500 in 2006.

Hellas Sat 2’s capacity is now nearly 85 percent full and the company expects to be profitable this year, Protopapas said. Transponders have been leased for an average of 1.1 million euros ($1.5 million) per year. Sales in 2006 were 15 million euros. In an interview, Protopapas said sales in 2007 are expected to be 23 million euros, with 28 million euros expected in 2008.

Hellas Sat has issued a request for information from satellite manufacturers with a view to an eventual Hellas Sat 3 and a




possible alliance with a strategic partner. Any decision




likely will have to wait for the upcoming national elections in Greece as Greek law requires government approval of any change in Hellas Sat’s ownership.

That same legal requirement makes it less likely that Hellas Sat could be purchased outright.

Protopapas
said the political support for Hellas Sat in Greece has not faded since the Olympics.

During recent fires in Greece, he said, many Greeks believed it was Hellas Sat that was providing information on the fires’ location to firefighters. “People have the impression that Hellas Sat can do anything,” Protopapas said.







Orbcomm

Satellite Deal Expected by Year’s End




Satellite two-way messaging service provider Orbcomm Inc. is committed to selecting a prime contractor for its second-generation constellation by the end of the year despite the profusion of companies proposing to do the job and making the selection that much harder, Orbcomm Chief Executive Jerome Eisenberg said.

The company




also is planning to launch five or six first-generation satellites, including a demonstration payload for the U.S. Coast Guard, late this year aboard a Russian Cosmos rocket operated from Russia’s Kapustin Yar spaceport, Eisenberg said in a Sept. 5 interview.

Ft. Lee, N.J.-based Orbcomm




currently is settled on three final candidates to lead the second-generation contract, which will include 18 satellites. Each satellite will have some 12 times the capacity of those in the current Orbcomm fleet,




he said.

The three current finalists are ATK Space of Beltsville, Md., formerly Swayles Aerospace until a June takeover by Minneapolis-based AlliantTechsystems; Argon ST of Fairfax, Va., teamed with Microsat Systems of Littleton, Colo.; and former Orbcomm owner and first-generation manufacturer




Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

Com Dev of Canada also is in the possible mix




as a supplier




to one or more of the three finalists, industry officials said. Com Dev had been teamed with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Britain for the Orbcomm work, but SSTL was subsequently judged by Orbcomm to have insufficient financial resources to act as prime contractor. The prime contract is expected to call for 18 satellites with an option for 30 more.

Eisenberg said the U.S. Defense Department’s resurgent interest in small satellites that can be built and launched rapidly has expanded the number of companies seeking a role in the Orbcomm work.

Orbcomm
currently has 29 satellites




operating in low Earth orbit that




were launched between 1997 and 1999. Eisenberg said a late-2007 contract




leaves enough time to assure that the second-generation fleet is launched starting in late 2009.

The current fleet, he said, is fully operational. Ground teams have taken steps to conserve satellite battery life by reducing battery power use when the satellites are in eclipse period or




in any event do not need as much power to provide customer service.

In addition to continuing Orbcomm’s current data-messaging service, the new satellites will each carry an




automatic




identification




system for U.S. and other maritime authorities, a feature that Orbcomm believes ultimately will be required by governments worldwide.




TerreStar Corp. Planning Satellite To Serve Europe




TerreStar Corp., which is building a hybrid satellite system for two-way mobile voice and data service in the United States, has signed a preliminary contract with Astrium Satellites of Europe to begin designs for a TerreStar 3 satellite serving Europe, TerreStar Chief Executive Robert H. Brumley said.

The Reston, Va.-based company




also has signed a contract with Nokia Siemens Networks U.S. LLC for base stations and other ground-network gear. The deal has




a minimum commitment of $78 million and a total price




of $400 million.

Brumley
said in an interview that TerreStar will purchase




5,500 base stations from Nokia Siemens for its U.S. network, with the minimum contract commitment corresponding to 700 base stations.

TerreStar’s
first satellite, TerreStar-1, is under construction at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif., and




scheduled for a late 2008 launch aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket. The satellite




, which is expected to weigh some 6,700 kilograms at launch, will be the sole payload on that mission.

Brumley
said TerreStar in the coming months will be assembling an insurance package to cover the cost of the launch and the satellite. TerreStar-2, also being built by Loral, will serve as a ground spare in keeping with U.S. regulatory requirements for mobile satellite services operators using networks of ground stations to assure signal transmissions when the satellite is out of range.

For a TerreStar-3 covering




Europe, Brumley




said




the company expects to include a more-sophisticated digital signal processor on board instead of relying on ground-based beam-forming technology used for the satellites serving




North America. TerreStar has agreed to pay Astrium a total of $5.75 million in three installments for the current TerreStar-3 work.








Iridium Plans Early 2009 Prime Contractor Selection






Iridium Satellite LLC expects that more than 50 companies will be submitting preliminary




proposals for its




second-generation system, called Iridium Next, by the time the request for information closes in late September, Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said.



Bethesda, Md.-based Iridium, which operates a constellation of 66 satellites and nine spares for global mobile voice and data communications, wants to launch its second-generation system




starting in 2013. Desch said a request for proposals from manufacturers will be sent out in time to permit a contractor to be selected by early 2009.

While it’s too early to speculate on the cost of the second-generation system, Desch said, Iridium’s working assumption is that it will require a capital expenditure of about $2 billion, of which 60-75 percent will be financed by Iridium’s ongoing operations.

The rest of the money will be raised by a planned Iridium stock offering in the next two years.

Desch
said Iridium’s satellites are operating well and will continue to provide full service through 2014. Iridium’s current subscriber base of 210,000 includes 30,000 U.S. Defense Department users, a market that is growing at a rate of 5-6 percent per year.

Users located in international waters far from terrestrial communications links account for more than 40 percent of Iridium calls, he said. Seven percent of the system’s use is in polar regions, where signals from geostationary-orbiting satellites cannot reach.

Desch
said Iridium has seen strong growth recently in what it calls short-burst data transmissions.











European Firms Seek To Pry Open Indian TV Market




Satellite-fleet operator SES and other European satellite companies have protested to the European Commission that India is not living up to




its World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments with respect to opening its market to non-Indian direct-broadcast television service providers, SES Chief Executive Romain Bausch said.

The move, which Bausch said was made under the auspices of




the European Satellite Operators Association,




reflects increasing frustration




that India’s fast-growing satellite-television market is being slowed by what they see as Indian protectionism.

India’s policy restricting Ku-band direct-broadcast television service to satellites owned and operated by India’s government agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, is not new. But companies including SES have been reluctant to protest the policy in hopes that quiet negotiations would give their satellites a market entree.



SES’s New Skies division is one of several non-Indian satellite operators that currently do business in India and




has cited India as one of its most promising future growth markets.



Speaking to reporters Sept. 4, Bausch said the European satellite operators listed in their documentation presented to European Commission trade authorities several other nations whose regulatory regimes discriminate against foreign satellite operators.