Top Fixed Satellite Service Operators: Telesat

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What Telesat’s owners, Loral Space and Communications of New York and Canada’s PSP Investments pension fund, elect to do with the world’s fourth-largest satellite fleet operator in the coming months may be one of the more interesting developments in the satellite communications sector in 2011.

For months the two owners have been entertaining bids from prospective buyers, and sales prices of up to $6 billion have been evoked. Whether Telesat actually fetches this price or concludes any transaction at all remains an open question.

Loral officials have said there may be no deal, or perhaps a stock-market introduction instead of an outright sale of the company.

Negotiations with potential buyers must have been complicated in recent weeks by the failure of the solar array aboard the large Telstar 14R/Estrela do Sul-2 satellite to fully deploy. Telesat and manufacturer Space Systems/Loral continue to work the problem, but preliminary indications are that the satellite will lose about half its capacity if the solar panels remain stuck in half-deployed position.

That will enable Telesat to serve all the customers on the Telstar 14/Estrela do Sul satellite that the new spacecraft was intended to replace — especially since, in what industry officials say is an uncanny development, the original satellite suffered a similar defect when it was launched a decade ago.

The new satellite would have given Telesat a jump on the competition in appealing to the Latin American market, whose appetite for bandwidth is growing faster than most other regions of the world, and substantially faster than demand in North America.

Even without this big new satellite, Telesat has been modestly increasing its revenue and sharply boosting its gross profit margin. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 77 percent of revenue for the three months ending March 31, compared to 74 percent a year earlier. The company’s North American fleet was 89 percent full, while its other satellites were, on average 77 percent full.

Telesat earlier this year finally agreed to take over the Canadian Ka-band payload aboard the large ViaSat-1 Ka-band satellite scheduled for launch this summer. The Canadian payload has been all but sold out by a Canadian broadband provider.

In a more risky move, Telesat’s decision to put an X-band payload on its Anik G1 satellite, set for launch in late 2012, has paid off early. The entire X-band capacity has been leased, for the satellite’s full 15-year life, by Astrium Services of Europe, which provides X-band satellite services to the British Ministry of Defence, NATO and other governments.