Telesat SSTL LEO
SSTL, an Airbus company, built the prototype satellite Telesat is using to prepare for its constellation of 117 satellites. Credit: SSTL/Kathryn Graham

WASHINGTON — Telesat awarded a second constellation design contract Aug. 1, choosing Airbus Defence and Space to begin studies on the company’s proposed system of 117 low Earth orbit communications satellites.

The contract follows a similar deal awarded July 30 to a team of Maxar Technologies and Thales Alenia Space.

Canada-based Telesat said both contenders will perform “a series of engineering activities and technical reviews” in close collaboration with Telesat over the coming months before the company downselects in mid-2019.

Airbus is already under contract to build 900 small telecom satellites for OneWeb, producing the first 10 in France before shifting production to a new $85 million factory in Florida. OneWeb and Airbus created a joint venture called OneWeb Satellites to build the 900 spacecraft, as well as satellites for other companies.

It is not clear what role OneWeb Satellites could play in building satellites for Telesat. Erwin Hudson, vice president of Telesat LEO, told SpaceNews earlier this summer that the satellites Telesat envisions will be materially larger than the 145-kilogram satellites OneWeb plans.

“They are more substantial, larger, more complex satellites than some of the other LEO constellations because we’ve got phased array antennas and onboard processing in addition to the [inter-satellite link] terminals,” Hudson said of Telesat LEO. He declined to give an estimated mass before Telesat selects a manufacturer.

Brian Holz, OneWeb Satellites former chief executive, told SpaceNews last year that the company didn’t intend to build satellites much larger than those it is producing for OneWeb.

We won’t do everything,” he said. “We are a certain size spacecraft with a certain capability and we can tweak some of the parameters a little bit, [but] it’s not everything for everybody.”

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, the U.K. company that built the prototype LEO satellite Telesat is currently testing, is part of Airbus. The satellite launched in January on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Telesat said the manufacturer of its constellation will also be responsible for ground segment infrastructure and system integration. The company anticipates starting service in 2022. Telesat LEO will provide multiple terabits per second of Ka-band broadband connectivity, according to Telesat. 

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...