Updated 2:45 p.m. Eastern clarify selection process.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Yahsat has selected SpaceX to launch its next-generation Thuraya mobile connectivity satellite in 2023, the companies announced Sept. 8.
A Falcon 9 will launch the Thuraya 4-NGS satellite, being built by Airbus Defence and Space for UAE-based Yahsat, in the second half of 2023. The companies did not disclose terms of the launch contract.
In an interview during the Satellite 2021 conference here, Ali Al Hashemi, chief executive of Yahsat, said the company did a competitive tender process for the satellite, but that SpaceX offered by far the best proposal. “We think SpaceX is the most reliable choice for our mission, to ensure to our shareholders that we will achieve our mission on time,” he said. “It’s the least risky launcher as we see it.”
“For launch of its advanced technology, Yahsat sought a reliable and high-performance ride to orbit. We’re proud it has selected Falcon 9, one of the world’s most frequently flown launch vehicles,” said Tom Ochinero, SpaceX vice president of commercial sales, in a statement.
Yahsat selected Airbus to develop Thuraya 4-NGS a year ago and completed a preliminary design review in June. Al Hashemi said development of the satellite remains on schedule to support a 2023 launch.
The satellite will replace the existing two Boeing-built Thuraya satellite that provide L-band mobile voice and data services from Europe to the Asia Pacific. Those existing satellites remain in service but are past their design life.
Al Hashemi said that service won’t compete with a new generation of broadband satellite constellations, including SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites. “Thuraya is focused on a different segment, which is narrowband mobility and portability,” he said. “It is a totally different market. Our competition is more Iridium and Inmarsat.”
The new satellite will offer a more flexible payload, he said, with higher data rates. Yahsat plans to release more details about those capabilities later. The company projects the satellite generating $47 million a year in revenue over its 15-year life, a significant part of the company’s overall backlog of $2.1 billion, 70% of which is for government customers.
Yahsat went public July 14 when it started trading on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. Al Hashemi said the initial public offering was very successful. “It brought transparency to Yahsat and our achievements,” he said. “I can see, when dealing with our partners, the mentality has changed a little bit because they can see how successful we are in terms of financial achievements.”
When Yahsat announced the Thuraya 4-NGS contract in August 2020, the deal included an option for a second satellite, Thuraya 5-NGS. Yahsat executives said at the time that they would wait to exercise that option until they had a strong business plan in place for serving the Asia-Pacific region.
Al Hashemi said the company is keeping its options open for what it will do next. “We have a very open mind to look at everything,” including both GEO and LEO satellites. “This is the question we’re trying to answer now, what is next for Yahsat. That’s what we’re trying to find out at this conference.”