Orbital Expected To Get New Satellite Contract in Nov.

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Malaysian satellite-fleet operator Measat Global is expected to announce in November that Orbital Sciences Corp. will build its planned Measat-4 telecommunications satellite, according to industry officials.

In winning the Measat order, Orbital will have bested an offer from Antrix Corp. Ltd. of Bangalore, India, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization. Industry officials said Antrix had been considered a shoo-in for the Measat contract following a December 2004 agreement brokered by the Malaysian and Indian heads of government.

As part of that deal, Measat and Antrix had agreed to form a joint-venture company combining their satellite fleets and marketing skills to sell C- and Ku-band commercial satellite capacity in the Asia-Pacific region. The arrangement was designed to give Measat access to India’s telecommunications market and Antrix its first- satellite export contract — Measat-4. In February, Measat established an Indian subsidiary, called India Malaysia Satellite Co. Private Limited.

Even if Orbital does build Measat-4, industry officials said Antrix could still get a contract for the launch of Measat-4 aboard an Indian rocket.

Measat Global did not respond to requests for comment on Measat-4 and or on the status of their Measat-3 satellite, which is being built by Boeing Satellite Systems International of El Segundo, Calif.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences spokesman Barron Beneski also declined Oct. 20 to comment about whether Orbital had won the Measat order.

Measat operates two aging Boeing-built 376-model satellites that were more than 85 percent full as of January. The company’s customer base of television broadcasters is led by the fast-growing Astro All-Asia Network, a provider of direct-to-the-customer satellite television services that accounted for 45 percent of Measat’s total 2004 revenues of 129.6 million ringgit ($34.1 million).

Measat, which returned to profitability in 2004 after posting a loss the previous year, has been seeking partnerships with other satellite operators, with India at the top of its list. India operates its own fleet of domestically built Insat telecommunications satellites.

Both of Measat’s existing satellites were launched in 1996. With its business expanding and those satellites nearing the end of their expected life in orbit, Measat officials have said they are eager to get the larger Measat-3, a Boeing 601 model, into service.

Measat Global modified Measat-3’s antenna specifications after the contract for the Boeing 601 spacecraft was signed. Company officials said the change was made to broaden the satellite’s coverage area in Southeast Asia. They told Kuala Lumpur stock exchange authorities earlier this year that the 2005 launch date for Measat-3 stood firm.

Measat contracted the satellite with Boeing in March 2003 for $132.5 million, with a launch scheduled on an International Launch Services Proton-M rocket by November 2005. Measat won a $500,000 grant in 2003 from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to train Measat employees to operate Measat-3.

At press time Boeing officials had not resonded to a query about the Measat-3 satellite’s delivery date.

The Measat-4 win would be the fourth commercial geostationary telecommunications satellite contract for Orbital Sciences this year, following orders from Norway’s Telenor, PanAmSat, and the Horizons joint-venture company owned by PanAmSat and JSAT Corp. of Japan.

Orbital Sciences Chairman David W. Thompson said Oct. 20 in a conference call with financial analysts that the commercial satellite market is strongly rebounding in 2005 and is expected to remain relatively strong in 2006.

By Orbital’s count, 18 commercial telecommunications satellites have been ordered so far this year, with 20 to 22 orders expected in 2006.

Of this year’s 18 commercial satellite orders, seven were for satellites weighing less than 3,000 kilograms — the class in which Orbital specializes. Orbital has won four of these seven.

Orbital now sees more near-term business in the commercial market than in the government market. In a statement that no satellite manufacturer would have made in the past three years, Thompson said: “For the next couple of quarters, the real driver for top-line growth will be the commercial sector.”

Thompson said during the conference call that Orbital expects to face increased competition in its commercial telecommunications satellite business as other companies introduce their own smaller, less-expensive models.

Lockheed Martin has demonstrated its ability to compete with Orbital using the lightest version of the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite frame.

In addition, Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy have joined forces with NPO PM of Russia to focus on that end of the market. EADS Astrium of Europe recently forged a similar relationship with Antrix for satellites weighing between 2,000 and 3,000 kilograms at launch.