SAN FRANCISCO – Rather than pushing the state-of-the art, Boeing, Maxar Technologies and Northrop Grumman are emphasizing reliability in satellites they are manufacturing to help Intelsat and SES clear C-band spectrum, according to speakers at the Satellite Innovation 2020 conference.

“Schedule is king,” said Jordan Bletscher, Boeing Space Launch chief strategist. “We want to get the satellites in orbit and get the spectrum freed up so we can collect the incentives.”

The FCC is offering satellite operators billions of dollars in subsidies to clear C-band spectrum for cellular 5G networks. The FCC plan includes incentive payments for satellite operators who clear 100 megahertz of C-band spectrum by Dec. 5, 2021 and the remaining 200 megahertz by Dec. 5, 2023.

Satellite manufacturers racing to ensure their customers can launch the new satellites in time have faced challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as a technician testing positive for COVID,” said Rob Shah Northrop Grumman Communication Satellites Operating Unit director. “When that happens, you’ve got to suspend operations, disinfect the facilities and the technician has to self-quarantine.”

Still, satellite manufacturers and their “suppliers have done a tremendous job adapting to this difficult environment and addressing issues as they arise,” Shah said. “We are still committed to delivering our satellites on time.”

That message was echoed by Boeing and Maxar representatives who said their C-band replacement satellites were in production and scheduled for on-time delivery.

With an eye toward those schedules, the satellite manufacturers said are relying on technology with flight heritage. Compared with the satellites they are replacing, however, the technology is innovative.

“The platforms, generally speaking, have improved quite a bit in the last 15 to 20 years,” said Paul Estey, Maxar Space Solutions executive vice president for customer relations. “The avionics and propulsion systems have changed.”

In addition, the current generation of satellites are easier to produce and more reliable than their predecessors, Estey said.

Boeing is building two C-band replacement satellites for SES. Maxar is building five for Intelsat. Northrop Grumman is building two C-band replacement satellites for Intelsat and two for SES.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...