PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 11 said it had inaugurated its design-to-cost spending-reduction plan by ordering a direct-broadcast television satellite from Orbital ATK of the United States and Airbus Defence and Space of Europe.
In another cost-reduction measure, the satellite, Eutelsat 5 West B — benefiting from Orbital’s smaller platform size — will be launched in 2018 as a co-passenger aboard an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton Breeze-M rocket.
Riding to geostationary transfer orbit with the Eutelsat satellite will be Orbital’s precedent-setting satellite in-orbit serving Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, which uses the same GEOStar-based platform as Orbital’s telecommunications satellites.
Eutelsat, in second ILS contract, is inaugural customer for new Proton Medium
In a separate announcement on Oct. 12, ILS and Eutelsat said Eutelsat would be the first customer to use the new Proton Medium vehicle, which is designed for all-commercial use for payloads weighing between 3,000 and 5,000 kilograms, which is below the nominal weight for a full-sized Proton. The Eutelsat satellite, which was not identified, will be launched in 2019 or 2020.
Stacking the savings on a single Proton
Stacking two GEOStar-derived platforms on top of each other, without an adaptor between them, saves weight and will allow Eutelsat — and Orbital, for the MEV-1 — to save on launch costs.
Fleet operator Intelsat is Orbital’s inaugural customer for MEV-1, which will perform a test mission with Intelsat before moving on to its operational scenario of docking with a satellite, assuming control of its propulsion and attitude control, and providing fuel to extend its service life.
MEV-1 then undocks and is available to perform similar mission-extension missions on several satellites. Like the satellites themselves, MEV-1 has an estimated 15-year service life.
Satellite insurers are taking a cautiously optimistic view of MEV-1 and similar satellite in-orbit servicing initiatives. They have said MEV-1 customers likely will be forced to sign amended, higher-premium insurance policies, which usually provide for annual coverage of healthy satellites in orbit, to reflect the higher risk associated with servicing missions.
Eutelsat 5 West B will replace the Eutelsat 5 West A satellite at 5 degrees west longitude. It will carry the equivalent of 35 36-megahertz Ku-band transponders to deliver direct-to-home television to audiences located mainly in France, Italy and Algeria.
Eutelsat 5A, which also carries a C-band payload, was launched in mid-2002 and is nearing retirement.
Eutelsat’s revenue and profit warning in May had a chilling effect on the entire fixed satellite services industry. The company said the market reaction was overblown and that growth would return within three years.
Nonetheless, Eutelsat announced a broad cost-cutting program that included a 16 percent reduction — to 420 million euros ($470 million) per year for the coming three years from the earlier 500 million euros — in annual capital spending for three years.
The company said it would be pressuring its supply chain, notably satellite builders and launch-service providers, to minimize the effects of the lower spending on new capacity to be placed into orbit.
Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital’s GEOStar platform occupies the lighter end of the commercial geostationary-orbit satellite market. Airbus said the Eutelsat 5 West B would have a launch mass of about 3,000 kilograms and would generate 5 kilowatts of power to the payload at the end of its 15-year life.
Eutelsat Chief Technology Officer Yohann Leroy said the idea to marry an Airbus payload with an Orbital-built platform emerged as the natural consequence of Eutelsat’s bid request, whose power specifications were below what Airbus usually provides to customers.
Other companies besides Orbital can build small geostationary-orbit communications satellite platforms, but none could offer the relatively seamless stacking option to save on the launch costs that comes from having two nearly identical satellite skeletal structures as passengers.
Leroy said Oct. 10 that Eutelsat looked at the total cost of ownership of the 5 West B program, including launch cost. Eutelsat in late 2015 signed a Multi-Launch Agreement with Reston, Virginia-based ILS, which markets Russia’s Proton rocket.
Proton was coming off a string of failures that had tarnished its reputation among commercial satellite owners. Eutelsat said at the time that its agreement with ILS was done in part to ensure that at least three rockets remained regularly available to the commercial market. The other two are the Arianespace-provided Ariane 5 and the SpaceX Falcon 9.
The combination of previously negotiated cost reductions in the Multi-Launch Agreement and the ability to essentially cut launch costs in half by sharing a Proton mission have resulted in “substantial savings,” Leroy said. He declined to be specific.
After 15 years of operations of the 5 West A satellite, Eutelsat has been able to reduce the coverage for the successor spacecraft based on the customer set that has developed over the years in France, Italy and Algeria. The successor satellite thus needs less power to serve the customer base, and does not need the C-band capacity aboard 5 West A.