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Flashback to The Most Discussed Topics of 2010 in the Satellite Industry

By | December 20, 2017

      As we count down the final few days of 2017, we take a look back to see what satellite operators were thinking at the turn of the decade and how far they’ve come since. In this story from January 2011, our Executive Editor Jeff Hill runs down the beginnings of Inmarsat’s Global Xpress service, SpaceX’s first-ever Falcon 9 launch, and more.

      SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 10:43 a.m. EST, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010. NASA/Alan Ault

      SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 10:43 a.m. EST, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010. Photo credit: NASA/Alan Ault

      Every sector of the U.S. satellite industry experienced dynamic changes with long-term impact in 2010. The year proved opportunities during an economic period that has curtailed many other businesses around the globe. Satellite News has compiled a list of the most discussed topics in the United States region based on Web traffic and reader interest. We present them here in alphabetical order.

      Inmarsat Invests in Ka-band GlobalXpress Offering

      Inmarsat’s decision this past summer to invest $1.2 billion in three Ka-band satellites as part of its GlobalXpress offering was seen as another endorsement for the potential of Ka-band satellites and the market’s potential to expand beyond simply providing faster Internet speeds to consumers that do not have access to high-speed terrestrial lines.

      Global Xpress aims to supplement military capacity on the Boeing’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) fleet. Three WGS satellites are in orbit, with three more scheduled for launch by late 2012. Inmarsat CEO Andy Sukawaty told Satellite News that the company sees GlobalXpress as a continued effort to build on to its acquisition of Segovia in May and branch out from the enterprise sector to government and military services.

      “While GlobalXpress will cater to a wide variety of customers, we actually made the decision that we wanted to expand our focus in defense about three to four years ago. We put more resources into the idea and started looking at potential acquisitions. With managed services playing a bigger role in our business, it was natural for us to look at acquiring a company like Segovia, which we did last May.  Initially, Segovia was not on our radar. The way it came on the radar, is that Segovia kicked off a process of either partnering with a bigger company or selling the business,” Sukawaty said.

      One of the Global Xpress satellites will be built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems and will carry a hosted payload for U.S. Department of Defense customers. In November, Inmarsat President of Global Government Services Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch told Satellite TODAY Insider that the company is negotiating the service’s hosted-payload lease structure with the Pentagon.

      “For the military, discussions are beginning, and at the operation level there is significant receptiveness. At the policy level, there is conceptual receptiveness. The most difficult challenge is the program level, and there has not been as much traction, yet, but we’re getting there and making progress. As with all commercial communications and technology discussions with the military, these things take time,” Hirsch said.

      In late December, Inmarsat secured $666 million in U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank loans to finance the construction and insurance of three Ka-band satellites for its Global Xpress service.

      “I think that to date, people have associated Ka-band with consumer broadband, and one of our points is that there is no reason to think of it as constrained to that market,” said ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg. “It could be well suited to any market where you need a lot of bandwidth. There is a steady momentum building and you will see more Ka-band satellites. The difficulty in getting Ku-band orbital slots is also a factor. Ka-band is more readily available from that perspective. Ka-band spot beam satellites can also be well suited for higher bandwidth yield.”

      Intelsat Loses and Rescues Galaxy 15

      Intelsat’s Galaxy 15 satellite (G-15), located at 133 degrees West, experienced an anomaly on April 5 that would send the satellite off course and cause panic over its potential to interfere with other satellites.

      The FSS operator faced simultaneous challenges beyond the loss of the satellite itself. The first was engaging in a cooperative effort with other operators and its own customers to determine the best way to avoid interference as Galaxy 15 drifted further from its 133 degrees West orbit. The second challenge was dealing with fast-spreading rumors that the satellite would interfere with, and possibly disrupt, major U.S. pay-TV broadcasting platforms and services provided by SES World Skies’ AMC-11.
      Earlier this year, Intelsat CTO Thierry Guillemin told Satellite News that the panic stirred over Galaxy 15’s potential to disrupt U.S. pay-TV services largely was “unfounded,” as the operators involved developed a strategy, led by SES CTO Alan Young, almost immediately after Intelsat lost control of the satellite.

      “We communicated our situation with everyone involved from day one,” said Guillemin. “We worked with both SES and customers and had several options to prevent any service disruption. Some of the claims that were floating on blogs and media sites outside of the satellite-specific press painted a completely inaccurate picture, considering that we have experience dealing with these situations and have been successful in the past with similar service transitions.”

      Intelsat transitioned G-15’s media traffic to Intelsat’s Galaxy 12 satellite, which is the designated in-orbit spare for the North American region.  Galaxy 12 is currently relocating to the 133 degrees West.  Intelsat and Orbital Sciences Corp., the manufacturer of G-15, are conducting a technical investigation with respect to the anomaly. The satellite was designed to be operational through 2022.

      Just before the end of the year, Intelsat announced that Galaxy 15 was accepting commands and sending telemetry to its satellite operations center. The operator said it successfully reset the satellite’s baseband equipment command unit, noting that it was designed to do so after power from Galaxy 15’s battery was completely drained during its loss of orbit. “We have placed Galaxy 15 in safe mode, and at this time, we are pleased to report it no longer poses any threat of satellite interference to either neighboring satellites or customer services,” Intelsat said in a company statement.

      Recovery efforts for the satellite are now underway. Intelsat said it completed initial diagnostic tests and will load updated commanding software to the satellite. “We expect to relocate the satellite to an Intelsat orbital location, where engineers at our satellite operations control center will initiate extensive in-orbit testing to determine the functionality of every aspect of the spacecraft.”

      Iridium Next Receives Coface Backing

      Questions over the financial feasibility of global MSS satellite company Iridium Communications’ Iridium Next constellation were answered by the securing of a $1.8 billion credit facility from Coface on June 2, which enabled Iridium to award some of the industry’s largest contracts in history to build and launch the ambitious project.

      The Coface guarantee is being syndicated through French and other major international banks and financial institutions and is not conditioned on Iridium raising any further debt or equity financing. Iridium completed the financing this past summer.

      Thales Alenia Space will build 72 operational satellites and in-orbit spares for Iridium Next with an additional nine ground spares to provide greater risk mitigation. The MSS operator also entered into an authorization to proceed with Thales Alenia Space, which allows the manufacturer to immediately commence work on the development of satellites prior to completion of the financing.

      Iridium CEO Matt Desch said the financing structure it secured with Coface exceeded the company’s expectations. “In addition, the Coface guarantee enables Iridium to secure attractive and flexible low cost financing for the project. Based on the amount of this guarantee, we expect Iridium Next to be fully funded when the financing is finalized this summer. This is a critical step in maintaining our customers’ and partners’ confidence that Iridium will keep delivering innovative products and services globally through the coming decades.”

      Thales Alenia Space CEO Reynald Seznec said his company would form partnerships with a consortium of international technical partners to cover the large-scale mission. “We expect 40 percent of the work for Iridium Next to be subcontracted to North America companies,” Seznec said in a statement.

      To launch the constellation, Iridium issued a $492 million contract to SpaceX on June 16 to carry multiple Iridium Next constellation satellites on Falcon 9 rockets. That deal represents the largest commercial launch contract to date.

      Iridium expects the total cost of the Next constellation’s development, manufacture and launch to be approximately $2.9 billion. The first constellation satellites are scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2015.

      Obama Signs NASA Reauthorization Act of 2010

      After receiving much criticism and anxiety from the civil space sector, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 in October, which adds a third and final space shuttle flight in June, extends space station operations to 2020 and provides increased federal funding for commercial space transport alternatives.

      The bill, originally drafted by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee authorizes appropriations for NASA’s 2011, 2012 and 2013 fiscal years largely in line with President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget request announced earlier this year, which called for more investments in U.S. commercial space companies.

      The bill requires NASA to develop portfolio that includes aeronautics, Earth and space science, and education, covering investments in technology and robotic capabilities. The bill also includes a sustainable exploration program with new technologies and in-space capabilities; building future exploration off the workforce, assets and capabilities of the space shuttle and other efforts.

      The legislation reverses former President George W. Bush’s NASA initiative, which focused on a return to the moon. Instead, the bill hastens development of a NASA deep-space exploratory craft to reach an asteroid by 2025 and orbit Mars a decade later.

      “We have risen above a lot of partisan politics. This is government at its finest,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in a statement.

      NASA wasted no time in seeking commercial launch partners since the Authorization Act went into effect. In the span of a month, NASA entered into Modular Space Vehicle (MSV), Rapid Response Space Works (RRSW) and heavy-lift launch vehicle development contracts with 16 different commercial entities. The RRSW and MSV contracts share a maximum value of $500 million.

      Acting as a contracting agent for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office, NASA also awarded contracts to five companies Nov. 11 to develop multi-mission the MSVs. ATK Space Systems, Miltec Corp., Northrop Grumman Systems, PnP Innovations and Sierra Nevada Corp. will provide support for the ORS office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., for a period of five years, while NASA will help facilitate planning, acquisition and operations.

      SpaceX Launches Falcon 9, Dragon Spacecraft

      In June, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket and achieved Earth orbit, marking a successful inaugural performance for the highly anticipated medium-lift launch vehicle. The rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch facility carrying the Dragon vehicle qualification unit.

      SpaceX will perform Falcon 9 flights under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract to demonstrate delivery of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as returning cargo to Earth. Following these flights, SpaceX will begin the NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract, conducting a minimum of 12 cargo flights by 2015 with a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kilograms to be carried to the ISS.

      Falcon 9 also will be used for commercial launch purposes. In March, SpaceX received its most recent commercial contract to launch a Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket as early as 2012.

      In early December, SpaceX placed its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9.  The Dragon spacecraft completed nearly two orbits during its test flight. This was the first time a commercial company has recovered a spacecraft re-entering from low-Earth orbit, as well as the first flight under NASA’s COTS program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. Dragon’s next scheduled mission is a fly-by of the ISS, where the Dragon will come within six miles of the orbiting station. The first manned Dragon mission to the ISS is scheduled to take place in 2011.

      “This is the first in a new generation of commercial launch systems that will help provide vital support to the International Space Station and may one day carry astronauts into orbit. This successful demonstration flight is an important milestone in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama and Congress, and shows how government and industry can leverage expertise and resources to foster a new and vibrant space economy,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

      ViaSat Wins Blue Force Tracking 2 (BFT-2) Contract

      In July, the U.S. Army selected ViaSat as the winner of the Blue Force Tracking 2 (BFT-2) program contract over Comtech Mobile Datacom. ViaSat, whose BFT-2 system is derived from its ArcLight mobile satcom technology, was awarded $477 million under the BFT-2 indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity deal. Comtech, the proprietary owner of the BFT waveform, offered the Army its BFT-HC terminal, which is compatible with BFT legacy systems. Comtech’s said it was notified by the Army that it was not selected as the program manager and vendor and that an award was made to ViaSat based on a total evaluated price of $249.9 million — about 50 percent lower than the total evaluated price of Comtech’s BFT-2 proposal.

      The Army’s decision surprised analysts and even ViaSat Vice President of Global Satcom Systems Phil Berry. “It is very rare to unseat an incumbent in an existing military program. While it is a difficult task, the Army strongly supports open competition. We offered the best price for BFT-2 that we could, which we believe is both fair and legal. The technology stands on its own merit. The Army has had experience with this technology and the capabilities over the past several years. We gave it our best shot and we were fortunate that we were chosen,” Berry told Satellite News in July.

      Raymond James analyst Chris Quilty told Satellite News July 21 that he was “98 percent sure” Comtech would win the award based on the Army’s frequent BFT and MTS contract ceiling increases with the company. After the contract award was announced, Quilty said he could not explain the difference between Comtech’s and ViaSat’s statements. “Obviously, investors see this development as a shock. I am still trying to determine the difference between the two numbers. The $249.9 million figure, stated by Comtech, implies that the BFT-2 program will spend an average of approximately $41.7 million per year on BFT-2 services and hardware based on a six-year anticipated rollout.”