Thaicom To Order Satellite from Orbital, Launch from SpaceX

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Thaicom of Thailand said May 31 it will contract with satellite builder Orbital Sciences and launch services provider Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) for the construction and launch of a Thaicom 6 telecommunications satellite following approval of the $160 million project by Thaicom’s board of directors.

Thaicom 6, expected to weigh about 3,000 kilograms at launch, will be operated at 78.5 degrees east and will carry 18 C-band and eight Ku-band transponders. The Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, a regulatory agency with which Thaicom has had occasionally difficult relations, has approved the company’s request for a Thaicom 6 operating license, Thaicom said.

In a filing with the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Thaicom said the entire Thaicom 6 project — construction, launch and insurance — will cost some $160 million. A launch is scheduled for mid-2013, making Thaicom the third established operator of geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites to book with SpaceX.

Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX is adding power to its Falcon 9 rocket’s main-stage engine and widening the payload fairing to accommodate telecommunications satellite owners. It already has won orders from Spacecom of Israel and SES of Luxembourg. The Falcon 9 has never flown to geostationary transfer orbit, the dropoff point for most telecommunications satellites.

Thaicom said it expected to sign formal contracts with SpaceX and with Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences in June to assure a mid-2013 launch. Thaicom Chief Executive Arak Chonlatanon said in a May 31 statement that Thaicom 6 would be designed mainly to serve the growing satellite television market in Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Assuming an insurance premium of 12 percent, which may be higher or lower than what Thaicom eventually negotiates, the announced project cost suggests a price of around $143 million for the satellite and the launch vehicle. It is the latest example of the effect SpaceX is starting to have on the commercial launch market.

The Thaicom 6 announcement came one day after the Thai satellite operator announced a major new contract with Malaysia’s Measat satellite operator for capacity aboard the Thaicom 4/IPStar Ku-band consumer broadband satellite.

Financial details were not disclosed for the 10-year contract, under which Measat will purchase access to seven IPStar spot beams delivering a total of 3.3 gigabits per second of throughput, which Thaicom said is seven percent of the satellite’s total capacity. The bandwidth will be marketed in Malaysia as Measat 5. Measat will also purchase the IPStar gateway Earth station previously owned by Thaicom and move it to Measat’s teleport in Cyberjaya. Up to now, Thaicom has marketed its broadband service in Malaysia on its own with eight Malaysian service providers.

Thaicom 4/IPStar was launched in 2005, making Thaicom one of the world’s first satellite operators to make a large investment in consumer broadband via a spot beam satellite. IPStar’s links to consumers are in Ku-band, not the Ka-band preferred by most recent commercial satellite broadband efforts.

As is the case with several of Thaicom’s largest IPStar customers, the Measat deal was facilitated by a national government project to extend broadband access to populations off the main telecommunications grid.

“The Measat 5 initiative is in line with our mission of being the satellite operator of choice for the Malaysian information and communication technology (ICT) industry,” Measat Chairman Datuk Umar bin Haji Abu said in a May 30 statement. “Our partnership with Thaicom … will allow Measat to expand its support to local telecommunications companies in providing connectivity to all areas of Malaysia in line with the National Broadband Initiative project.”