Satellite Manufacturers End year With Low Commercial Sales

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  Space News Business

Satellite Manufacturers End year With Low Commercial Sales

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 18 January 2005
12:05 pm ET


PARIS — Twelve new commercial telecommunications satellite orders were booked in 2004, a year in which Space Systems/Loral did not emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but did emerge from a multi-year slump in new business.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based subsidiary of Loral Space and Communications of New York registered five new contracts, four of them related to Loral’s 2003 bankruptcy filing and the early-2004 sale of orbital assets to Intelsat Ltd. of Washington.

Loral Chairman Bernard L. Schwartz has said the company expects to emerge debt-free from Chapter 11 protection early in 2005.

Three of these five Loral orders — two from DirecTV Group and one from PanAmSat Corp. — had been subject to nonrefundable advance payments from the customers and were all but certain to become firm contracts. The Intelsat order also featured an advance payment as part of the terms of the sale of Loral’s North Atlantic satellite fleet to Intelsat.

These four satellites were not part of industry-wide bid requests and competing offers, but that was true of many of the orders in 2004.

Boeing Satellite Systems of El Segundo, Calif., booked three orders from DirecTV Group, also of El Segundo, in a deal that also was not subject to competitive bidding. That deal was part of the final resolution of Boeing’s purchase in 2000 of the satellite manufacturing division of Hughes Electronics, which was later renamed Boeing Satellite Systems. At the time of the sale Hughes also owned DirecTV. The three 2004 orders from DirecTV were part of the conclusion of the 2000 sale.

EADS Astrium’s win of Telesat Canada’s Anik F3 satellite was ordered as part of a contract from 2003 that included an additional satellite as an option. But Telesat exercised the option in 2004 and it is counted here.

Alcatel Space’s ChinaSat 9 contract was a de facto non-competed win because the world’s other principal satellite manufacturers in the United States and Europe use U.S. components and are barred from exporting this hardware to China.

In addition to its two orders for complete satellites, Alcatel Space won two contracts to provide payloads for satellites to be operated by the Russian Satellite Communications Corp. of Moscow. The two satellites, AM-33 and AM-44, will continue a long-term manufacturing partnership between Paris-based Alcatel Space and Russia’s biggest satellite builder, NPO-PM of Krasnoyarsk, which is building the two satellites’ payloads.

Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., and Cablevision Systems Corp.’s Rainbow DBS subsidiary announced in November a contract for five Ka-band satellites for high-definition television service in the United States. But Bethpage, N.Y.-based Cablevision included several caveats in its announcement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The company said it could terminate the contract as a whole or in part whenever it wished, and had only enough funds to pay the $48 million in first-year development work.

If executed, the five contracts would bring Lockheed Martin $740 million, plus launch and insurance costs. However, Rainbow said in its filing with the SEC that the company did not know where the remaining funds would come from.

Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems President Ted Gavrilis conceded that the contract leaves some questions unanswered.

On Dec. 21, Cablevision Systems told the SEC that it was canceling its planned spinoff and stock offering for Rainbow and will “pursue strategic alternatives for its Rainbow DBS business.”

Several Wall Street analysts applauded the announcement, saying it increases the likelihood that Cablevision will dispose of its struggling VOOM direct-broadcast satellite television service. “We think it would be a positive development if management seeks to either sell or close VOOM,” the Morningstar Inc. stock research firm said Dec. 21.

Industry officials said Lockheed Martin also appears to have won a contract for a satellite from Broadcast Satellite System Corp. of Japan, which in June received license approval from Japan’s regulatory authorities for a BSAT-3a satellite.

Industry officials say 10-15 satellite orders are expected in 2005. Companies viewed as likely buyers this year include Telesat Canada, XM Satellite Radio, EchoStar, JSAT Corp., Space Communications Corp., PanAmSat, SES Global and Eutelsat.

One satellite operator that had been expected to be in the market for a satellite in 2005 is Measat Satellite Systems Sdn.Bhd. of Kuala Lumpur. But Measat, which purchased its Measat-3 spacecraft from Boeing, announced in December that it has signed a letter of intent to purchase Measat-4 from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Antrix, the commercial technology arm of ISRO, will build the satellite.

The satellite is part of a broader joint-venture agreement between Measat and ISRO to pool their satellite operations for the Asia-Pacific market. If the Measat-4 contract with ISRO is signed, it would mark that company’s first telecommunications satellite export sale and could herald the entry of a low-cost competitor into an already crowded market.

Comments: pdeselding@compuserve.com