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SES Americom Plunges Ahead With Expansion Plans

By | June 23, 2003

      Princeton, N.J.-based SES Americom officials contend that their aggressive schedule for deploying new and replacement satellites makes good business sense, despite the general industry view that there is excess satellite capacity.

      “In an era when manufacturers and launchers are complaining about a lack of activity, we are launching six satellites in 14 months,” bragged Carl Capista, vice president of entertainment sales at SES Americom. The high-level of demand expected for these satellites will put the company “ahead of the industry curve,” he added.

      SES Americom, the U.S. unit of Luxembourg-based SES Global [Luxembourg: SESG], launched June 9 the first of six communication satellites it plans to put into orbit within the next 14 months.

      Despite a generally sagging fixed satellite service (FSS) sector utilization rate, SES Americom officials are undeterred because the orbital slots where the satellites will be placed are prime locations, said Capista. “The utilization rate is not as bad as what seems to be reported industry-wide. On a satellite-by-satellite basis, we have quite a few sold out.”

      Certain other FSS operators have lower utilization rates because they offer more “generic capacity” to the marketplace, Capista said.

      “We try to build neighborhoods in the sky that add a lot of value to our customers. That strategy takes it out of the commodity realm,” he said.

      The current level of weakened demand is part of the ebb and flow of the industry that will change as the economy improves, he said.

      “In 1995, every transponder in our fleet was sold out,” Capista said. In contrast, utilization rates in the mid-1980s were lower than they are now. Given enough time, the demand for satellite capacity goes “full circle,” he added.

      SES Americom’s satellite that was successfully launched earlier this month by International Launch Services aboard a Russian Proton rocket will be positioned at the 85 degrees West orbital position, pending Federal Communications Commission approval. The hybrid C-band/Ku-band AMC 9 satellite will undergo payload and performance testing and is expected to be ready in July to provide the transmission of digital video, data networking and telecommunications services throughout North America, company officials said.

      When deployed, the AMC 9 will allow the AMC 2 satellite to be moved to 105 degrees W to serve EchoStar Communications [Nasdaq: DISH], Capista said.

      AMC 10 and 11 are scheduled to replace the Satcom C3 and C4 spacecraft already in orbit. Those new satellites would move to 135 degrees West and 131 degrees West, respectively, in cable neighborhoods with strong demand. AMC 10 and 11 are scheduled for launch in February and March 2004.

      The planned AMC 12 and 13 satellites would be deployed in the Atlantic Ocean Region and Pacific Ocean Region, respectively, Capista said. The AMC 12 and 13 would go into orbital slots, 37.5 degrees West and 172 degrees East, that currently are occupied by satellites originally operated by Columbia Communications. SES Americom purchased Columbia Communications in September 2000. It is putting replacement satellites into Columbia’s orbital slots to enhance in-orbit capability, he added.

      Another new satellite in the works is AMC 15, a Ku-band/Ka-band hybrid satellite that would feature Ka-band spot beams. That satellite is scheduled for launch during the summer of 2004. It would be placed at the 105 degrees West orbital slot to replace AMC 2.

      SES Americom markets itself as a provider of value-added services, in addition to operating satellites in well-established cable neighborhoods. Those value-added services include: launch and in-orbit protection; redundancy; ground protection; and a stable of launch vehicle providers with proven track records, Capista said.

      When FSS demand inevitably starts to rebound, SES Americom intends to be ready, Capista said. SES Americom currently operates 15 spacecraft in orbit throughout the Americas, across Europe, over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and above Asia.

      “SES Americom sees a future that none of its competitors see, especially if we are coming out of an economic slump, ” said Jimmy Schaeffler, a satellite industry consultant who heads The Carmel Group, of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

      –Paul Dykewicz

      (Monica Morgan, SES Americom, 609/933-8442; Jimmy Schaeffler, The Carmel Group, 831/643-2222)

      AMC 9 At A Glance:

      • Manufactured by Alcatel Space;
      • Hybrid C-band/Ku-band spacecraft;
      • Uses a Spacebus 3000B3 platform;
      • Weighs 4,100 kg at launch;
      • C-band payload features 24 – 36 MHz transponders with 20 watt SSPAs;
      • Ku-band payload features 24 – 36 MHz transponders with 110 watt TWTAs;
      • Operates at 85 degrees West Longitude;
      • Covers the continental United States (CONUS), plus Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America; and
      • Has receiver and amp redundancy.

      Source: SES Americom

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