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By | September 20, 2000

      One trend picked up on at the recent Satel Conseil event in Paris was that the industry is “moving towards larger and heavier satellites” – with a 6,000kg satellite possibly being launched in 2002, according to the head of Sea Launch.

      Wilbur Trafton, president and general manager of Sea Launch, also said that at present there are only three players capable of offering launches for satellite weighing more than 5,000kg – Arianne, Proton and Sea Launch – but “more are coming”. Indeed, Trafton warned that with the competition increasing in the coming months launch capacity will exceed demand, with “survival of the fittest” especially being the case for coming years. However, with companies building constellations, contracts will be spread around “so we can all fight for a slice of it”. Trafton noted that presently Sea Launch can only launch a satellite weighing up to 5,250kg, and the next step is 5,700kg, and the challenge then is to reach a 6,000kg capability by the end of 2002.

      “Shared hauls are less practical as satellites get bigger,” said Trafton, adding that Sea Launch will focus on cost effective solutions for delivering single haul large satellites to orbit. Apart from price, back-up is crucial to customers and Trafton said he is eager to offer such a service, and revealed Sea Launch is currently talking to Delta about offering back-up for one another on launches.

      Although Trafton talked of the bigger satellite coming, the lower mass sector will not suffer, according to Philippe Berterottiere, commercial director of Arianespace of France. “Even though there is a trend towards the six tonnes plus satellite, we see an increase in demand for lower mass ranges of the 1.5 to 2 tonne satellite market. It is a very active market and we have a fairly large market share,” he said. Not wishing to appear that he had neglected this market, Trafton added, “We would like to see any move that creates more launches. Any increase in the number of space craft that need to go into orbit is good for us.”

      Gale Schluter, vice president and general manager expendable launch systems for Boeing Space & Communications Systems, said that in the past satellites were designed to fit the launch vehicle, but now operators and constellation designers look even close at the cost to risk ratios.

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