Telesat selects Thales-Maxar team for LEO constellation design work

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WASHINGTON — Canadian fleet operator Telesat on July 30 selected Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies’ Space Systems Loral division to collaborate on the design of its low Earth orbit broadband satellite constellation.

Though not a manufacturing contract, the agreement positions the two companies as a team that could ultimately build the 117-satellite system and accompanying ground segment when Telesat makes an award in mid-2019, the company said.

The “System Design and Risk Management Project” tasks Cannes, France-based Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colorado, with design work for the full constellation system, including spacecraft, gateways, user terminals, operations centers and the ground network. Telesat is funding the work, but did not reveal the size of the contract.

Telesat’s schedule for manufacturing and service activation has slipped by about a year. The company now plans to have the constellation in service in 2022, instead of 2021 as originally envisioned.

The company is currently testing a prototype satellite from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited that launched in January on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. An earlier prototype from California-based SSL and the University of Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory was lost during a November 2017 Soyuz failure.

Telesat says its LEO constellation will offer multiple terabits of secure throughput with latency low enough to rival fiber. Targeted applications include broadband to aircraft, boats and land vehicles, corporate networks, governments and rural connectivity.

It noted Thales Alenia Space and Maxar have teams in France, Canada and the U.S., while highlighting the consortium’s experience in “payload antenna design, on-board processing and LEO satellite production.” Thales Alenia Space is leading the consortium, but the companies didn’t disclose the specific roles Thales Alenia Space and SSL would have in this project.

Thales Alenia Space is the manufacturer for the 81 LEO satellites in Iridium Next, integrating the spacecraft with Northrop Grumman, and has a study contract with startup LeoSat for its proposed constellation of 84 broadband satellites. Maxar’s MDA division in Canada is a supplier to OneWeb for the company’s 900-satellite constellation.

Winning the Telesat LEO manufacturing contract would be significant for Maxar, as the ongoing slowdown in telecom satellite orders has led the company to consider exiting the business of building large geostationary satellites. Maxar is considering downsizing, pairing its SSL division with another manufacturer, or leaving the GEO satellite manufacturing business, and will make a decision by the end of the year.