RSCC To Beef Up Satellite Fleet with Three More Launches in 2007

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Paris — The state-owned Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) plans to launch three new satellites before the end of the year, plus two more in 2008, as it continues a fleet-replacement and expansion that has quadrupled the company’s fleet size since 1999, RSCC officials said.

Moscow-based RSCC currently operates 11 telecommunications satellites deployed from 14 degrees west longitude to 145 degrees east longitude. The satellites provide television, Internet and telecommunications services through 220 transponders operating in the C-, Ku- and L-bands.

The company’s government-decreed investment plan through 2015 calls for the total number of transponders in the fleet to more than double, to 550 by then, according to Vladimir L. Glebsky, RSCC’s director of investment projects.

RSCC’s upcoming Express spacecraft are to include both the larger AM models built by NPO PM of Russia and Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, and the smaller Express-MD platforms built by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, with Thales Alenia Space providing the electronics payloads.

In addition to adding new capacity for growing regional television markets, RSCC is designing three Express-RV spacecraft to provide a Russian direct-broadcast television service. Because of Russia’s northern latitude, the satellites will be operated as a constellation to provide continuous coverage of Russian territory from highly elliptical orbit.

RSCC spokeswoman Elena Polischuk said April 17 that the Express-RV spacecraft also will provide digital radio programming in addition to television. Polischuk said that while the Express-RV project is part of the Russian Federal Space program, which governs RSCC’s investment through 2015, contracts for construction of the satellites have not been signed.

“RSCC is working hard to schedule this launch for 2009, but the dates depend on financing and this issue is not settled yet,” Polischuk said.

The more immediate launches scheduled by RSCC are the Express-AM33 and AM44 satellites, to be operated from 96.5 degrees east and 11 degrees west, respectively. AM33 is scheduled for launch aboard a Russian Proton rocket in September, with AM-44 to be launched in December, perhaps with the Express-MD1.

Glebsky, in a March 22 presentation to a space-insurance conference in Milan, Italy, said RSCC in total will be launching 15 satellites between 2007 and 2015 to replace existing capacity and then expand capacity. The current AM satellites have a 12-year service life, compared to seven years for the previous generation.

Echoing comments made by other satellite-fleet operators, including Intelsat, SES Global and Eutelsat, Glebsky said RSCC will be more discriminating in the future about the purchase of satellite insurance. The new satellites will not be insured beyond their design lives he said, meaning RSCC will self-insure when necessary, including the use of in-orbit backup capacity.

RSCC also is applying Western-style incentives to its Russian satellite prime contractors, including rebates to contractors if their hardware works as planned, as a way of encouraging quality. Glebsky warned insurance underwriters that premiums “cannot be comparable with the [satellite’s] project profit level. If this is the case, there is no reason to start the project at all.”

Glebsky said that since RSCC’s fleet expansion began in 1999, the company has paid $134.9 million for launch and in-orbit insurance. During the same period, RSCC has received insurance claims for $50.4 million following rocket or satellite failures, notably an October 1999 Proton rocket failure that destroyed the Express-A1 satellite.

RSCC’s primary goal — on orders from the Russian government — remains unchanged: fulfilling the domestic telecommunications demand inside Russia. But the company’s higher-power, new-generation satellites have enabled it to attract foreign customers because the AM-design satellites, launched since late 2003, generate six kilowatts of power, double the Express-A capacity.

Glebsky said just 10 percent of RSCC capacity in 1999 was used by non-Russian customers. Today, he said, non-Russian business makes up 35 percent of the company’s business. The four AM satellites currently in orbit are 90 percent full, he said.

Within Russia demand is coming from government projects for rural education and telecommunications and from the growth in regional television channels — the same phenomena that are driving business growth in pockets of Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

RSCC announced April 17 that 12,000 VSAT terminals — two-way satellite stations whose price has dropped sharply in recent years — will be deployed by the end of the year as part of a project called Education, designed to provide Internet access to schools that do not have it.

RSCC said Russia’s Federal Communications Agency, Rossvyaz, is organizing a competition to provide another 12,000 VSAT terminals for rural telephony.

Russia is preparing for the introduction of satellite-delivered high-definition television and since October has been testing transmissions in the MPEG-4 compression standard using the Express AM1 satellite at the 40 degrees east location in geostationary orbit above the equator. The company plans to use the AM33 satellite for both standard digital and high-definition television for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, according to RSCC.

The company estimates that in 2006 alone, 15 new regional satellite networks were inaugurated in Russia, bringing the total nationwide to 60.