Satmex is one of Latin America’s largest regional operators, and earlier this year, was one of the first operator’s to sign up to buy an “all electric” satellite from Boeing, which will be called Satmex 7. It also signed a deal to launch this satellite with SpaceX. Satmex’s CEO, Patricio Northland, explains the reasons behind these bold strategic moves, as well as the potential growth opportunities for the operator in Latin America.
VIA SATELLITE: What will be Satmex’s Latin America capacity deal flow in 2012?
Northland: Latin America is continuing to grow very strong, both in the DTH business and the cellular backhaul market. There is strong growth in broadband in cellular networks. Right now, we are very constrained with capacity. We have a utilization rate on both satellites of more than 97 percent. We are extremely tight with capacity. We are working with various customers so hopefully they will wait for us as we prepare to launch Satmex 8, which will bring an additional 19 Ku-band transponders as compared to Satmex 5. We expect Satmex 8 to be in commercial operation by the end of this year. The demand for capacity is strong both from existing customers, as well as new customers. We see some good DTH opportunities for Satmex.
VIA SATELLITE: Why did you decide to go with Boeing’s electric propulsion satellite model?
Northland: We are entering into this new era of satellites with electric propulsion. They are being advertised as “green” satellites, but the 702SP satellite is not all about new technology. The majority of the actual components of the payload and the platform have been available for some time. The technology is the new way of putting together electrical propulsion and all of these other parts of technology. The integration is the new thing here. In order to mitigate that risk, we are hiring one of the best outside consultants that specializes in electrical propulsion systems, as well as all the other new components that will be comprised on this satellite.
This is a very strategic move for Boeing. I would cautiously say that we believe the 702SP provides a significant number of advantages that mitigates the potential risk. The fact that we are using electric propulsion allows us to save an enormous amount of mass on the satellite. That allows us to use launch vehicles that can launch satellites with this mass. We selected [SpaceX’s] Falcon 9 because it would enable us to do a dual configuration, which means our satellite can be launched with ABS together. This is still a very capital-intensive business. We are able to launch the satellite for significantly less money than typical satellites today, producing a reliable and very capital efficient satellite platform.