Telesat buys in-orbit satellite to help cover Anik F2 shortfall

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TAMPA, Fla. — Canada’s Telesat is relocating an in-orbit C-band satellite it bought from another operator as thruster issues force its Anik F2 spacecraft into early retirement. 

The satellite is expected to reach Anik F2’s geostationary orbital slot at 111 degrees west “in the coming months,” Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said Nov. 8 during the company’s financial results update.

Anik F2 will be moved into inclined orbit after using up fuel faster than expected under a workaround mode that enabled it to continue providing services over the past year despite losing half its four thrusters.

The Boeing-built satellite was launched in 2004 and, despite operating beyond its 15-year design life, Telesat had expected to get another three years of services out of it before the anomaly.

To mitigate the impact on broadcast and broadband customers mainly based in Canada, the operator has been leveraging other satellites in its fleet, leasing capacity from other operators, and adjusting customer antennas on the ground.

“Assuming all of these things occur as planned, we now anticipate that we’ll retain over 90% of the revenue we originally expected to recognize from Anik F2 next year,” Goldberg said.

The company had warned in August that it could lose around 33% of the revenues that Anik F2 was due to generate next year. The satellite represents 8% of Telesat’s overall revenue, or around 50 million Canadian dollars ($37 million).

However, these workarounds and mitigation techniques will increase the company’s operational costs. 

Goldberg said Telesat aims to provide an update on the cost increase when it next reports quarterly financial results.

The company declined to disclose the identity of the C-band satellite it is relocating, which comes as operators order new C-band satellites in the United States to clear part of the spectrum for 5G wireless operators.

Anik F2 also has Ku-band and Ka-band transponders.

Telesat reported 180 million Canadian dollars for the three months to the end of September, down 8% compared with the same period last year when adjusted for changes in foreign exchange rates.

The decrease was primarily due to satellite broadcaster Dish Network downsizing a capacity contract that was up for renewal, Telesat said, and revenue from short-term services provided to another satellite operator last year that did not recur in 2022.

Adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, fell 14% to 137 million Canadian dollars.

Goldberg said the results were in line with expectations and the company continues to anticipate full-year 2022 revenues of between 740 million and 750 million Canadian dollars. 

Telesat also continues to expect full-year 2022 adjusted EBITDA between 545 million and 560 million Canadian dollars.

Lightspeed limbo

The company had no updates to share on debt negotiations to fully finance Telesat Lightspeed, its proposed low Earth orbit constellation of nearly 200 broadband satellites.

Goldberg said he continues to expect to “have a much better sense” of where the company stands with export credit agency (ECA) lenders to help complete the project’s financing by the end of this year.

Telesat has lined up more than 4 billion Canadian dollars so far, drawing from existing financial resources and commitments from the Canadian government. 

This funding had represented about two-thirds of Lightspeed’s total budget before rising inflation and supply chain issues pushed costs up by 5-10%.

Goldberg said Telesat also remains locked in talks with other types of lenders as it seeks to raise more debt than previously anticipated to cover cost overruns.

Telesat needs to complete the project’s funding so Thales Alenia Space, the constellation’s prime manufacturer, can start full-scale production.

Delays have already pushed out Lightspeed’s service debut to at least 2026, according to the company’s last schedule update in May, closer to the deployment of rival constellations that include Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

However, Goldberg said he has not seen anything from Amazon or other constellations “that changes the way we think about our ability to be successful with Lightspeed.”