Special Report | 2014 Commercial Launch & Satellite Contracts
International Launch Services, forced into a bystander’s role in 2014 as rivals Arianespace and SpaceX swept up almost all the commercial satellite launch contracts, expects to be back in the mix in 2015, ILS President Phil Slack said Jan. 8.
In an interview, Slack said the three disparate negatives that hampered Reston, Virginia-based ILS in 2014 — Russia’s incursion into Ukraine and related sanctions, the Russian Proton rocket’s shaky recent reliability record and the market’s turn to lighter satellites — should ease a bit in 2015.
In addition, he said, ILS has launch openings in 2016 that may not be available at Arianespace of Evry, France, or at Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX. See Full Story.
The determination of Bulgaria and Afghanistan to have their own telecommunications satellites and the long-expected awakening of the Indonesian market were highlights of the commercial satellite market in 2014.
Early indications are that 2015 will be another strong order year even if the major fleet operators in Europe and North America are on the down side of their capital spending cycles. See Full Story.
Twenty-six commercial satellites open to competitive bidding and intended for geostationary orbit were ordered in 2014, up from 23 the previous year. Satellite manufacturers say 2015 is likely to be about as busy, with the possibility of one or more contracts for lower-orbit satellite constellations entering the mix.
Space Systems/Loral (SSL), the only major satellite builder without substantial government business, again led the pack in picking up commercial geostationary satellite orders, booking nine satellites in its second full year of operating under the ownership of MDA Corp. of Canada.
The year’s contract count includes several orders for Earth imaging satellites in lower orbits — two hyperspectral missions booked by Boeing for its new, smaller satellite platform, Airbus’ win of a Peruvian optical reconnaissance satellite and SSL’s win of a contract to build 13 low-orbiting satellites for SkyBox Imaging.
Planned or ongoing competitions for optical reconnaissance satellites in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia are likely to make Earth observation a durable feature in measuring a satellite builder’s competitive strength.
Europe’s Arianespace launch services provider on Jan. 6 said its record 11 launches in 2014 generated a record revenue of more than 1.37 billion euros ($1.8 billion) and that, if its rockets and satellite customers meet their commitments, 2015 should be at least as good.
The year was the first in which the long-predicted frontal competition between SpaceX and Arianespace produced its first results — a tie, at least in customer count. Each company reported nine contracts for commercial satellites heading toward geostationary orbit, the usual destination of telecommunications spacecraft. See Full Story.
Commercial launch service providers in 2014 booked 19 orders open to competitive bidding for satellites to launch into geostationary orbit. Another eight satellites, including Indian and Chinese spacecraft, were booked, or soon will be, by national launch providers in deals for which no competitive bids were sought.
Another contract, for Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus space station supply freighter, was signed with United Launch Alliance after what Orbital said was a competitive bid evaluation process.
The most striking feature of the 2014 contract tally is the absence of Russian and Russian-Ukrainian launch service providers International Launch Services and Sea Launch AG. These companies’ vehicles have had reliability or supply chain issues. Both specialize in launching larger satellites, which were out of favor in 2014 — a year dominated by small and midsize spacecraft.
It remains to be seen whether the sharp decline in the Russian ruble in 2014 can be used by ILS and Sea Launch to regain market share by bidding for satellites that otherwise would be viewed as too small for their vehicles.