The Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC), which until late June had been telling potential customers
its Express AM33 and AM44 telecommunications satellites would be
this year, has reversed
itself and now says
both satellites will be up to half a year late.
In written responses to
questions from Space News, RSCC says it
only recently was informed by its satellite-payload supplier, ThalesAleniaSpace, that the hardware would not be delivered as scheduled to the prime contractor, NPO-PM of Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
“We are astonished by this situation,” RSCC says, adding that the late deliveries will cost the satellite-fleet operator substantially in lost revenue
from customers whose contracts stipulate a start date in 2007.
Alenia Space declined to comment on the situation despite being informed that RSCC was laying the blame for the delays at the doorstep of the French-Italian manufacturer.
Alenia Space has had a long and profitable relationship with RSCC, having contracted for about a dozen satellite telecommunications payloads over the last 10 years. The Express-AM33 and AM44 payloads include C-, Ku- and L-band transponders to provide television broadcasting and two-way business communications links in Russia, Asia and parts of Africa.
RSCC declined to answer specific questions about what delivery dates are stipulated in the AM33 and AM44 contracts, which were signed by RSCC and ThalesAlenia Space. RSCC then contracted separately with NPO-PM to provide the satellites’ Express-AM platforms and to integrate the two segments and deliver the assembled satellites for launch.
As is the case with all NPO-PM satellites, AM33 and AM44 are specifically designed for launch aboard Russia’s Proton rocket. These launches are conducted as part of the Russian
federal government’s space program.
Alenia Space – then named Alcatel Space – signed the AM33 and AM44 payload contracts with RSCC in September 2004 in Moscow in the presence of Nicolas Sarkozy, then French finance minister and now the
president of France.
Whether work on the payloads began then or was held up for financial or other reasons could not be determined. But for the past year RSCC has maintained that the AM33 satellite would be launched in September, with the AM44 following in December.
In a presentation at
the June 19-22 CommunicAsia 2007 conference in Singapore, the company made a special pitch for AM33 to prospective Asian customers, reiterating that AM33 would be placed into the 96.5 degrees east orbital slot in September.
RSCC, which operates 11 satellites, says its capacity on its current Express-AM spacecraft is 90 percent booked, a situation that was exacerbated by the May 2006 in-orbit failure of the Express-AM11 satellite following what RSCC said was suspected impact with orbital debris or a micrometeorite.
The company says it committed itself to Chinese partners and others to begin test
broadcasts in November in preparation for the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008. This commitment and similar guarantees made to other customers will now have to be reviewed.
“Capacity on the new satellites has already been booked by Russian broadcasting companies and telecoms, customers from Europe and the Asia-Pacific,” RSCC says in its statement. “The delayed launches cause revenue deficiency for RSCC.”
RSCC says ThalesAlenia Space informed its customer
June 22 that the two payloads would not be delivered to NPO-PM in July and September, but rather in late November and late March.
In addition to contractually binding dates, where delays can result in financial penalties being imposed on the supplier, satellite and launch contracts often include less precise “best-efforts” clauses that commit the manufacturer to doing its utmost to deliver in advance of schedule.
It is not unknown for satellite operators to integrate the “best efforts” dates into their marketing campaigns, regardless of whether these dates have been agreed to by the suppliers. RSCC says in its statement that the ThalesAlenia Space contract includes late-delivery penalties, but the company did not say whether the current November and March delivery dates are at variance with the contract’s terms and conditions.
“RSCC continues negotiations with ThalesAlenia Space … to meet the undertaken obligations,” RSCC says. “We hope that the parties will manage to find solutions and supply the payloads in time … to prevent a critical situation.”