EUROPEAN SATELLITE BUILDERS BEAT US RIVALS

By | February 14, 2001 | Feature

Last year marked the first occasion when European communications satellite manufacturers managed to secure a marginally larger market share than their US counterparts in terms of the number of spacecraft ordered during the year.

By one measure, the score for Europe was 15 satellites versus 13 for the US industry.

However, nothing is ever quite so simple in the space business. Calculation is complicated by the fact that one can barely count a satellite order if the customer has not yet authorised the supplier to release details, or even identify the customer. By all accounts, Lockheed Martin has orders for three satellites in this position – these alone would put the US in front by one, besides doubling LM’s meagre score of three ‘announceable’ satellites for the year.

Also, it is difficult to count ‘partial satellites’, where the payload comes from one continent and the platform from another. This situation applies to Japan’s MTSat-1R, where a nominal prime contractor (SS/Loral of the US) is working with another payload specialist (Alcatel of France).

Count orders how you will, it cannot be denied that the European industry – now reduced to two companies, Alcatel Space (now incorporating the former Aerospatiale business) and Astrium (formerly Matra Marconi plus Dasa) have definitely ‘come of age’ in the satellite business. In past years, the Americans could generally count on securing about three quarters of the accessible world market, excluding government ordered spacecraft. These days now seem to be over and the change cannot all be put down to a high dollar.

Both European manufacturers have managed to grab orders from US-based and ‘international’ satellite operators. Astrium took firm orders from Intelsat for the first two of its upcoming series X satellites, plus six more options. Alcatel took the fight even closer to home when it scored at least six, maybe seven, orders from GE Americom, originally a US domestic operator firmly attached to its one-time owner General Electric until it was bought by the Martin component of LM. Alcatel is now to build Americom’s four over-ocean ‘international’ satellites, capable of linking two continents.

What is more, both European companies have begun work on their latest satellite generations, Spacebus 4000 (Alcatel) and Eurostar 4000 (Astrium). The Spacebus 4000 has a launch mass of up to 6 tonnes and will be capable of developing up to 20kW power in orbit. It should be noted that Astra-1K, Alcatel’s largest satellite until recently (it is to be launched by an ILS Proton at the end of this year) is something of a hybrid: it has a Spacebus 3000-B3 platform and Spacebus 4000 avionics. It will carry 54 transponders (including two in Ka band) and weigh 5.2 tonnes. The full Spacebus 4000 configuration will be first used for the four GE Americom ‘i-series’ satellites.

Astrium’s Eurostar 3000 will debut in the shape of at least five satellites: two (minimum) Intelsat Xs and three Inmarsat I-4s (one a ground spare, at least initially) for the mobile operator’s B-GAN system (Broadband Global Area Network). Total value for these orders is estimated at $280 million (E301m) for the two Intelsat Xs, plus up to $700 million for the I-4s.

Inmarsat has also invested some $470 million in buying 144 Mbits/s packet data capacity on the UAE’s Thuraya Boeing-built GEO-Mobile satellite, for use from 2002 onwards. Thiraya-1 was launched last October, the heaviest satellite yet flown at the time. It is understood that Inmarsat plans that its lease contract will be permanent.

Astrium is understood to be utilising in I-4 some of the know-how it has acquired over the last several years in working on its EAST (GEO-Mobile) and WEST (GEO/MEO broadband) projects, which have otherwise run into the pending tray.

Two of the US manufacturers also have their Big Birds. In the case of Boeing Satellite Systems, the fourth 702 satellite, XM-1 for radio broadcasting, is still awaiting until end-February for a re-run of its aborted Sea Launch in January. Boeing is also building three Spaceway broadband satellites on 702 platforms for Spaceway Corp, which is essentially Hughes Network Systems.

Lockheed Martin Commercial Satellite Systems is the only manufacturer without a Super Bird on the stocks, sticking with ever-growing upgrades to its A2100 model, which are of all-composite construction for maximum strength at minimum weight. The A2100 will be used for the Astrolink series of four broadband satellites, the only one of this breed to offer global coverage from the outset. Lockheed Martin Global Telemmunications is a partner in Astrolink.

Space Systems/Loral is still pushing forward with its ’20:20′ satellite announced some two years ago and since shrouded in silence. But recently Dan Collins, the company’s senior VP for marketing and sales, acknowledged that SS/Loral was now in a position to accept orders for the craft. It is not required for any satellites currently on order; the earlier Model 1300S platform, an expanded model offering up to 19kW power and accommodating up to 90 standard transponders, will suffice for all Loral’s current orders. The 20:20 will provide power up to 30kW and carry as many as 180 transponders, says Collins.

Cyberstar To Be Leased Out

Loral admits that its on-off-on CyberStar project for a broadband satellite system to be owned and operated by part of Loral Space & Communications “is being reconsidered”. Briefly, the company now believes that the risks inherent in planning to operate a direct to/from the consumer Internet access system are too great in the current business climate.

This has to take Globalstar’s present situation into account. Loral owns 42 per cent of Globalstar, which has now suspended payment of principal and interest on its debt, in an effort to save around $400 million, enough to keep it afloat until the end of this year.

Now, Loral plans to continue building the two CyberStar satellites (it will retain the name for the present), but will endeavour to lease out their capacity. Completion is still set for late 2002, unless a customer requires “extensive modifications” to the basic design.

This is understood to involve onboard data processing and multiple spot beams. The two satellites already under construction would be sufficient for a US-coverage system, similar to that of Spaceway.

Civil commercial communications satellites ordered from 1/1/00 to mid-Jan 2001
Supplier
Customer designation
Satellite
Est. contract value, $ million
Lockheed Martin NTT-Mobile NStar-C
100
SS/Loral iSky (now WildBlue) iSky-1
100
SS/Loral Intelsat IS-906/907
240
Alcatel Eutelsat (Atlantic Bird-2) NewBird
80
Astrium Intelsat IS-X-01
140
Lockheed Martin EchoStar EchoStar-7
120
SS/Loral EchoStar EchoStar-8/9
260
SS/Loral Loral CyberStar CyberStar-1/2
280
Astrium Intelsat IS-X-02
140
Alcatel AirTV AirTv 1 to 4
300
SS/Loral Transport Ministry, Japan MTSat-1R
100
Boeing SS Telesat Anik-F2
115
Boeing SS Japan Sat JCSat-8
100
SS/Loral AssureSat AssureSat-1/2
200
Astrium Inmarsat B-GAN 1 to 3
700
Alcatel France Telecom Stellat
213
Astrium Eutelsat HotBird-7
90
Alcatel Hispasat Hispasat-1D
100
Alcatel GE Americom (also GE-2E) GE-12/14
n/a
Alcatel GE Americom GE-1i, 2i, 3i,4I
570
Boeing SS SES Astra-3a
n/a
SS/Loral Shin Satellite iPStar-1
n/a
Lockheed Martin New Skies NSS-6
276
SS/Loral Loral Skynet Do Brasil Estrela do Sul
n/a
Boeing SS AsiaSat AsiaSat-4
100
IAI Spacecom AMOS-2
n/a
Lockheed Martin GE Americom GE-15/16
n/a
Boeing SS New ICO/Teledesic ICO-13/-14/-15 (plus mods, to earlier satellites)
700
Boeing SS PanAmSat Galaxy-8iR
n/a
Alcatel RSCC (Russia) A4 & AM-11/-22 Express A1R/
100
Boeing SS Binariang(Malaysia) Measat-4
n/a
Boeing SS Eutelsat e-Bird
n/a
Mitsubishi Transport MTSat-2
n/a
Electric Ministry, Japan
(Source: Euroconsult & Interspace)
* Some prices include launches and other elements

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