By Nick Mitsis
With new management entering the communications satellite industry, business is centering more on exploiting its current assets and less on introducing new hardware. Once again, Via Satellite takes a closer look at the industry developments that shaped business endeavors in 2004. Allowing the numbers to tell the tale, the research results, along with near-term projections, indicate that the past year remained steady in terms of in-orbit assets, spacecraft manufacturing and launch market share. Today, the industry is focused on which applications will garner greater profits from the assets already in place.
Commercial In-Orbit Activity
No significant shift appeared when it came to tracking the global market share among the major Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) operators in 2004. According to Via Satellite, there were, as of December 31, 2004, 274 geostationary commercial communications satellites in orbit. SES Global continued to dominate this landscape with 38 wholly owned and operated spacecraft in its fleet. The major global FSS operator--SES, Eutelsat, Intelsat, Loral Skynet, New Skies and Panamsat--operated nearly 47 percent of the commercial satellite activity Via Satellite tracked last year.
With many of these players under new private equity management, and with some entering the public market, all eyes will be focused on how the existing assets can be further used. More robust service offerings will surface before further fleet expansion occurs due to overcapacity in key regions. According to Northern Sky Research, there were 1,370 idle C-band transponders out of the 3,570 in orbit in 2004. Likewise, there were 1,200 idle Ku-band transponders out of the 3,750 in orbit. Broadband applications, interactive and live programming, and mobile communications are the applications satellite carriers will be counting on to increase transponder use through the near term.
Commercial Launch Activity
The launch services industry remained steady from 2003 to 2004. According to Via Satellite, 14 communications satellites were launched aboard 13 commercial missions in 2004. We are anticipating the trend to continue in 2005.
International Launch services garnered roughly 69 percent of the launcher market share. Sea Launch lofted three commercial missions in 2004. The company was slated for more missions, but an upper-stage issue that left the Telstar 18 satellite in a lower-than-expected orbit required an investigation that interrupted the company's manifest. Telstar 18 eventually reached its proper orbit but Sea Launch did not perform another launch in 2004.
At Kourou, French Guiana, European launch service provider Arianespace performed one commercial launch in 2004, down from three launches in 2003. Arianespace's challenges were due in large part to its effort in getting its Ariane 5 ECA back to flight, which it did this past February.
Japan remained grounded in 2004, but February 2005 turned out to be a significant month for the country's launcher business, when its H2-A rocket conducted its successful commercial launch.
Even though we are not anticipating a significant change in launch rates in 2005, this year may pose to be an interesting one with all established vehicles back in operation, along with the newest contender, the H2-A.