WASHINGTON — Israeli satellite operator Spacecom, whose relationship with Facebook could be summed up as “it’s complicated” following the loss of its Amos-6 satellite in September, will borrow part of AsiaSat’s newest satellite for at least four years, Spacecom and Hong Kong-based AsiaSat announced Dec. 1.
AsiaSat-8, launched in 2014, will serve as an interim replacement for Spacecom’s Amos-6, which was destroyed Sept. 1 when its SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher exploded during pre-launch testing.
Facebook, through Eutelsat, had leased all of the Amos-6 satellite’s high-throughput Ka-band capacity to provide internet access to Africa. Facebook and Spacecom haven’t provided any sort of updated relationship status since the loss of Amos-6.
The just-announced $88 million deal with AsiaSat doesn’t provide any clarity since Spacecom only leased AsiaSat-8’s Ku-band payload, not the Ka-band capacity Facebook was seeking when it booked Amos-6. Eutelsat, in an October press release, said it was procuring Ka-band capacity on two Yahsat satellites, but avoided mention of a possible reconstitution of the Facebook deal.
Amos-6, which Israel Aerospace Industries had touted as the most advanced Israeli-made satellite, was equipped with 39 Ku-band beams and 24 Ka-band spot beams. AsiaSat-8, built by Space Systems Loral in the U.S., has 24 Ku-band transponders as well as a Ka-band payload. AsiaSat appears to be holding onto the Ka-band payload.
Spacecom told SpaceNews in a Dec. 1 statement that it will replace the Ka-band capacity it lost with Amos-6 when it launches its next new satellite to the 4 degrees west orbital slot in about four years.
Spacecom’s immediate need for AsiaSat-8 is to replace Amos-2, which launched in 2003 and is nearing the end of its service life. Amos-6, had it reached orbit, would have allowed Spacecom to retire Amos-2 while also providing growth capacity.
The loss of Amos-6 added to Spacecom’s woes, since the operator unexpectedly lost a core satellite, Amos-5, last year when it abruptly ceased communicating following a power supply problem. Amos-5, which was built by ISS Reshetnev of Russia around a payload supplied by Thales Alenia Space of France, launched in December 2011 on a Russian Proton rocket.
It is unclear whether the AsiaSat-8 lease will have any bearing on Spacecom’s dealings with Beijing Xinwei Technology Group, a Chinese conglomerate that had agreed this August to purchase the Israeli operator for $285 million. Xinwei stipulated that the successful launch of Amos-6 was a requisite for completing the acquisition.
Together, Spacecom and AsiaSat now intend to relocate AsiaSat-8 from 105.5 degrees east, where it is covering China and its neighbors, to 4 degrees west, where it will join Amos-3 in covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Spacecom will pay AsiaSat $22 million a year for AsiaSat-8’s Ku-band payload, according to AsiaSat. The four-year agreement includes an optional 12-month extension.
AsiaSat expects the satellite to reach its new perch over Europe, the Middle East and Africa within 45 days of receiving the necessary regulatory approvals. The satellite will then undergo a period of testing before entering service under Spacecom early next year.
The deal makes Spacecom one of AsiaSat’s largest customers by revenue. AsiaSat operates a fleet of six satellites, including AsiaSat-8, which it will continue to control. The operator’s next satellite, AsiaSat-9, is scheduled to launch in the second quarter of 2017 on an International Launch Services Proton rocket.
Spacecom said in November that it would recover the $196 million cost of Amos-6 under the insurance policy Israeli Aerospace Industries had taken out to cover its handling of the satellite prior to launch.
Spacecom said at the time it is still seeking $10 million in liquidated damages from Israeli Aerospace Industries for construction delays, which pushed back Amos-6’s originally intended 2015 launch.