PARIS — Satellite builder Space Systems Loral’s Dec. 30 announcement that it had won a contract to build the Telkom-4 telecommunications satellite for Indonesia’s government-owned satellite operator is likely to salvage what until recently had been a mediocre year for SSL – as it was for SSL’s competitors.

The contract with PT Telkom is also the latest illustration of the extraordinary dynamism of Indonesia’s satellite market, where several domestic satellite operators in addition to more than 30 non-Indonesian spacecraft battle for market share.

Palo Alto, California-based SSL has booked three Indonesian satellite orders in less than two years, all for different owners.

Indonesia’s BRI bank ordered its BRIsat in April 2014. BRI has announced that its planned $250 million investment in the program — including launch, insurance and the ground infrastructure — featured $170 million in loans and guarantees from the U.S. Export-Import Bank and France’s Coface export-credit agency. Europe’s Arianespace, headquartered in France, will be launching BRIsat.

In November 2014, Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) ordered the PSN-6 satellite from SSL after its originally intended supplier, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California, was unable to find a buyer for a similar satellite that would ride to orbit together with PSN-6 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, cutting launch costs nearly in half.

In addition to the Telkom-4 contract with SSL, PT Telkom in July 2014 ordered the Telkom-3S from Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy to replace the Telkom-3 satellite lost in launch failure of Russia’s Proton rocket in August 2012.

A nation composed of some 13,400 islands is a made-in-heaven market for satellite connectivity, and Jakarta has been a popular port of call for satellite builders, launch-service providers, ground equipment providers and industry consultants for several years.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has said it expects teleport owner PT Sarana Mukti Adijaya, an affiliate of fleet operator ABS of Bermuda, to become a satellite operator in its own right in 2016.

In a presentation to the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in October, the ministry said 34 foreign satellites were providing bandwidth in Indonesia as of late 2014. That compares to 22 in 2013, 18 in 2012 and 10 in 2011, the ministry said – a striking measure of the growth of Indonesian demand, and of the capacity shortage created by the Telkom-3 launch failure.

PT Telkom has said the Telkom-4 would replace the aging Telkom-1 satellite, launched in 1999 and stationed at 108 degrees west longitude. In its statement, SSL did not specify a launch date for Telkom-4 and Telkom officials did not immediately respond to requests for details about the orbital slot, launch date and launch vehicle.

Also unclear is whether Canada’s export-credit agency, Export Development Canada, will provide financing for Telkom-4. SSL is owned by MDA of Canada and as such is eligible for both Canadian and U.S. export credit backing.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank, while back in business after a shutdown in July following U.S. congressional battles over its mission, is unable to approve large new commitments until at least one additional director wins U.S. Senate confirmation.

SSL is alone among the major satellite builders in being almost exclusively focused on the commercial satellite market, although its MDA owners are repositioning the company for more U.S. government work.

John Celli
SSL President John Celli said the Telkom-4 order adds a third satellite to the company’s backlog for Indonesia. Credit: SSL
SSL President John Celli said the Telkom-4 order adds a third satellite to the company’s backlog for Indonesia. Credit: SSL

MDA officials have said SSL needs six or seven large geostationary-orbit satellite contract wins per year to remain healthy, with the exact number depending on each satellite’s size and power. With four orders since October, SSL finished the year with five.

“Satellite services are particularly important in regions such as Indonesia where the population is spread over thousands of islands,” John Celli, president of SSL, said in a prepared statement. “For SSL, this is the third satellite for Indonesia that we will add to our backlog and we are honored to play such an important role in expanding the telecommunications infrastructure for the nation and the region.”

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.