PARIS — Franco-Italian satellite builder ThalesAlenia Space is entering into a long-term partnership with Russia’s NPO-PM
higher-power telecommunications satellites for Russia’s domestic market and to introduce Russian-built components into ThalesAlenia’s commercial products.
Under the agreement they announced Dec. 6, the two companies will join forces in developing a new satellite platform, called Express-4000, to be built by NPO-PM for Russia’s fast-growing market for domestic satellite telecommunications – a market that Russian officials say will require the launch of a new, large telecommunications satellite
every 18 months in the coming years.
In addition, NPO-PM and a group of satellite component builders will supply satellite components for ThalesAlenia Space’s Spacebus 4000 product line. ThalesAlenia Space officials hope to take advantage of the lower production costs of certain proven Russian components to remain competitive at a time when the falling U.S. dollar makes Europe-based production more expensive in the global marketplace.
Alenia Space has been providing satellite electronics payloads to NPO-PM for about a decade. But growing Russian demand for direct-broadcast television and other applications requiring high-power satellites is threatening to make NPO-PM’s Express AM satellite platform obsolete.
In a Dec. 6 press briefing, Blaise Jaeger, ThalesAlenia Space’s executive vice president for telecommunications programs, said the Express-AM product delivers about 5 kilowatts of power to the payload. The enhanced Express-4000 satellite platform, using both ThalesAlenia and NPO-PM components, will deliver 8-12 kilowatts of power.
The new satellite
also will offer a longer service life. Express-AM satellites have an estimated in-orbit operating lifetime of 10-12 years. Express-4000, Jaeger said, will offer a 15-year service life.
Jaeger said ThalesAlenia Space will provide avionics gear including star trackers to NPO-PM for the new Express-4000 platform. While details on what Russian components might be suitable for ThalesAlenia Space’s own Spacebus 4000, Jaeger said these could include reaction wheels and other gear that
already has proven
itself in orbit and would not raise concerns among Western customers or insurance underwriters.
In a Dec. 6 statement, NPO-PM General Director NikolayTestoyedov said NPO-PM – with the backing of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos – has become the lead member of a consortium of satellite component builders in Russia called Information Satellite Systems Co.
It is this consortium that will provide a pool of possible technologies for use by NPO-PM and ThalesAlenia Space.
The agreement between the two companies also includes more involvement of NPO-PM in the assembly and test of payload electronics before they are integrated onto the NPO-PM satellite platform.
In his statement, Testoyedov said the partnership will permit NPO-PM to assume a larger role in the production of satellite payloads. “Our payload teams are being trained by their experts while assembling and testing the Express-33/44 communications satellites. This sharing of experience will enable us to design and test payload modules ourselves.”
The Express-AM33 and -AM44 telecommunications satellites are being built for the Russian Satellite Communications Co. and scheduled for launch in 2008.
Alenia Space officials said the company would not be transferring payload-component technology to NPO-PM, and that the Russian company’s new responsibilities would be limited to the integration and testing of payload systems.
Alenia Space in the early 1990s trained Chinese technicians in satellite construction in the hopes of a large harvest of future orders from China. While the company has won several Chinese orders, it has not reaped the expected benefits. In the meantime, China has used the expertise to become independent in commercial satellite technology. More recently the China Aerospace Corp. has begun offering its own all-Chinese product on the export market.
One factor limiting any attempt by NPO-PM to enter the global commercial market for complete satellites is the fact that the company’s spacecraft are built for launch exclusively by Russia’s Proton rocket, directly into geostationary orbit.
Most of the launch vehicles active on the commercial market launch satellites into geostationary transfer orbit, requiring that the satellites carry large reservoirs of fuel to power their way to final geostationary position.
Jaeger said that while the Express-4000 could evolve, the current design is only for satellites to be injected directly into their final operating orbit, whether geostationary or the highly elliptical orbit Russian companies use to serve Russia’s northern regions.