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SiriusXM orders pair of satellites to expand in Canada and Alaska

An artist rendering of SXM-11 and SXM-12. Credit: Maxar Technologies

TAMPA, Fla. — SiriusXM said Nov. 29 it has ordered two more satellites from Maxar Technologies to expand its radio broadcasting constellation.

The twin SXM-11 and SXM-12 satellites are slated to launch around 2026-2027 on a rocket that has not yet been booked, said Bridget Neville, SiriusXM’s vice president of satellite and terrestrial engineering and operations.

Like the SXM-9 and SXM-10 spacecraft ordered from Maxar last year, they will be based on Maxar’s 1300-class platform and are part of SiriusXM’s third-generation constellation. 

SiriusXM currently has five operational satellites with an estimated minimum lifetime ranging from 2024 to 2036 — plus two in-orbit spares — for broadcasting radio across North America and Canada. 

Although the four satellites Maxar is building will primarily replace existing capacity, Neville said they will have more powerful antennas for expanding coverage in Canada and southern Alaska.

Demand for satellite radio is “very consistent across all of the continental U.S. and Canada,” she told SpaceNews in an interview, and areas underserved by terrestrial alternatives are particularly compelling.

“When you start getting outside of big cities, especially in areas like Alaska, then that’s a good market for us,” she said.

SXM-8, the Maxar-built satellite that SpaceX launched in 2021, is currently SiriusXM’s only third-generation satellite providing radio services in orbit.

“Having higher power satellites gives us more [capacity] to play with,” Neville said, and enables the company “to spread it differently.”

SiriusXM recently reported revenue for its radio business up 5% year-on-year to $1.7 billion for the three months to the end of September, boosted by an increase in self-pay subscribers.

In addition to radio, SiriusXM’s satellites offer connected vehicle services, including automatic crash notifications and stolen vehicle recovery assistance.

Growth in the company’s other businesses, including its ad-supported Pandora audio streaming service, helped total revenues rise 4% to $2.28 billion for the group.

However, the company also warned that downward trends in the advertising market add risk to the group’s full-year growth expectations.

Neville said signing its latest satellite contract underlines “a very long-term investment in infrastructure” for SiriusXM.

“The expected operational life of these satellites takes us well into 2040,” she said.

“And so we certainly think that the satellite radio business is going to be very, very strong through that time period — and [we’re] looking forward to getting the next generation satellites into service.”

SXM-7, launched by SpaceX in December 2020, was due to be the first satellite in SiriusXM’s third-generation constellation.

However, SiriusXM has been unable to use the spacecraft for satellite radio service after it suffered a payload failure shortly after launch.

Neville said SXM-7 has a secondary payload that is functioning for a separate service she declined to detail. 

When asked what kind of service SXM-7 is providing, she said, “it’s not something we’ve previously disclosed.”

The delivery of SXM-11 and SXM-12 will bring the number of Maxar-built satellites for SiriusXM to 13. Most of these were ordered from Space Systems Loral, which in 2012 became a part of a company that later became Maxar.

Chris Johnson, Maxar’s senior vice president of space, said the manufacturer is “proactively working” with suppliers to ensure it keeps the four satellites it is currently building for SiriusXM on track.

Pandemic-related supply chain issues have delayed multiple large spacecraft projects destined for geostationary orbit.

Maxar recently agreed to compensate Echostar for production issues that have delayed the launch of its Jupiter 3 satellite to at least the first half of 2023, two years later than initially planned.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously,...