The launch services market is one of the most talked about in the satellite industry. With ferocious competition between exciting new entrants and established players, it remains to be seen how the market will shakeout in the next two to three years.
The order flow for new satellites is still pretty strong, which is good news for launch service providers, a competitive market in itself. However, from large Ka-band satellites to much smaller satellites, the market is as diverse as it has ever been, placing different demands on launch companies. It is a vibrant market.
It this roundtable, we talk to five commercial launch service executives about the state of the market, and whether or not there is enough business to go around. Included are Jean-Yves Le Gall, CEO, Arianespace; Frank McKenna, president, International Launch Services (ILS); Kjell Karlson, president, Sea Launch; Gwynne Shotwell, president, SpaceX; and Fu Zhiheng, vice president, Launch Services Division, China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC).
VIA SATELLITE: How many commercial contracts do you expect to win in 2012? How does this projection compare to 2011?
Le Gall: We hope to sign between 10 and 12 contracts for launching satellites to GTO on the Ariane 5 in 2012, about the same number as in 2011. We also expect to sign two or three launch contracts for Soyuz and Vega, both of which are now fully operational at the Guiana Space Center.
McKenna: ILS expects to win seven to eight commercial contracts this year, which is consistent with what we have been receiving. We have been maintaining a backlog during the last three years of 21 to 24 systems and that goes on a two year lead time to maintain our launch rate of approximately seven to eight commercial launches per year. This year, we will conduct nine to 10 commercial launches. We see seven to eight awards as our average. Last year we received seven awards, and nine the year before that.
Karlsen: We fully expect four to five contracts or assignments against our multi-launch agreements this year. Obviously for us, this will be up from 2011 where we essentially got assignments from our multi-launch agreements with Intelsat and Eutelsat. In 2011, we were really focused on returning to launch operations and ensuring that this was achieved successfully, which we did with the launch of the Eutelsat Atlantic Bird 7 and Intelsat 18 satellites. This year, we will focus on expanding our sales and marketing efforts in order to add backlog to our manifest.
Shotwell: In 2011, we added 10 missions to the manifest. Seven of those were commercial and six were GTO flights. This year I anticipate around the same, with probably the same make up of deals as well.
Fu: Compared to the western launch services providers, we don’t have as many contracts as they do. But for Long March family, the launch missions in these years are intensively planned, mostly for domestic programs. In 2011, Long March conducted 19 launches, which surpassed the United States and ranked second in the world. In 2012, there are 21 launch missions planned for Long March. CGWIC would like to constantly expand its international business, to explore and establish new ties with the international community for mutual benefits and win-win partnership.