Satellite fleet operator SES expects to select a manufacturer for at least three, and possibly four, satellites by mid-October to begin the replacement of its Astra direct-to-home satellite fleet, an order worth upwards of $700 million that has attracted bids from the principal U.S. and European builders of large satellites, SES Chief Executive Romain Bausch said Sept. 8.

The order will include at least three satellites to begin replacing the existing Astra fleet at 28.2 degrees east. A fourth satellite that could be part of the order would be for SES Astra’s newer 31.5 degrees orbital slot.

Bausch said the contract for at least three firm satellite orders would permit the winner to space out production so that the satellites could be built and delivered at six-month intervals, which he said would give manufacturers maximum flexibility in managing their production lines. It would also permit SES to add to the order without suffering much of a schedule slip in the event of  a launch failure on one of the first satellites.

Speaking to reporters here during the World Satellite Business Week conference organized by Euroconsult, Bausch said the satellites are likely to cost between 120 million and 140 million euros ($168 million to $196 million) apiece. If all four satellites are included, the order would be equivalent to between 15 percent and 20 percent of all commercial telecommunications satellites expected to be ordered globally this year.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Space Systems/Loral in the United States, and Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space in Europe, have or are likely to submit formal bids for the work. The Astra satellites in question, to be fitted with mainly Ku-band capacity “with some extras for Eastern Europe,” are too large to fit into the product portfolio of Orbital Sciences Corp.

According an industry source, SES has narrowed the bidding to two competitors, Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space, both of Europe.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.