Sunday, November 23, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in Richmond, an Iconic MacDonald Dettwiler Quietly Plots its Next Move!

          by Chuck Black

PSN CEO Adi Rahman Adiwoso. Photo c/o PSN.
Last week's announcement from BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) subsidiary Space System/Loral (SSL) that a previously announced satellite construction contract was for the Indonesian satellite operator PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), is simply another reminder that the MDA focus of operations is slowly shifting out of Canada.

As outlined in the November 19th, 2014 SSL press release, "SSL names undisclosed customer announced last month," SSL will be designing and building a new commercial communications satellite, named PSN VI, which will provide service throughout South East Asia.

The satellite will include both C-band (used for the data distribution of videos, cellular phones and other data communication) and Ku-band transponders (used for providing satellite services for the pay-TV industry) as part of its high throughput satellite (HTS) payload.

Overall, the win would seem to be a big one. As recently as the December 21st, 2013 Jakarta Post article "PSN to spend $220m on expansion," PSN president director Adi Rahman Adiwoso was quoted as stating that the new satellite, expected to cost approximately $200Mln USD ($224.7Mln CDN) would be provided through American Boeing Satellite System International, a subsidiary of the Seattle based Boeing Corp.

However, the most recent press release from SSL also quoted Adiwoso as stating that the new partnership "will strengthen our commitment to be the best satellite-based company regarding the technology innovation and its products. SSL has provided PSN with a solution including a committed launch, which strengthens and supports PSN's business plan and strategy going ahead."

As outlined in the October 27th, 2014 post "MDA Promotes Recent Wins as Preliminary to Quarterly Conference Call," the company has also promoted recently signed contracts with the US Air Force, Beijing-based EarthSTAR Inc (a subsidiary of EarthView Image Inc, a Chinese geographic information systems developer) and with "undisclosed customers in the oil and gas, and mining sectors" to deliver RADARSAT-2 surface movement monitoring products and services.

But there hasn't been an equivalent growth in domestic business for the company since MDA won the award for RADARSAT Constellation (RCM). As outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post "A $706Mln Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," the final RCM agreement included a contractual requirement to "launch the (three) satellites in 2018" for a fixed price but with no substantive follow-on funding.

Of course, the Canadian market hasn't really been critical to MDA's prospects since its November 2012 acquisition of SSL. But the absence of new Canadian government business has caused at least some public hand wringing from MDA executives, along with an implied threat to move the Richmond based head office to another, friendlier jurisdiction if things don't improve.

MDA CEO Daniel Friedmann. Photo c/o MDA.
For example, the October 31st, 2014 Space News article "Canada’s MDA Suggests Lack of Government Support May Prompt Another Move," quoted MDA CEO Daniel Friedmann as stating that, “we are concerned that Canada will not continue in the radar area — just as we were concerned about robotics, and we were right, unfortunately."

According to Friedman, MDA used to invest 90 percent of its research and development budget in Canada, but that has now shrunk to one-third of the total budget, as US and other nations show more promise and offer more support to operations.

The article went on to state that "Canada’s seeming vacillation as to how to advance the nation’s specialty in space-based robotics was in part responsible for the company’s (MDA's) purchase of a small U.S. company that has since been folded into MDA’s satellite manufacturing business, Space Systems/Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, California."

With R&D money already moving out of Canada and a growing international customer base for MDA satellites and services, only time will tell if the next strategic move for MDA ends up being a physical one.

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