Sunday, August 07, 2011

Intelsat Satellite Defective: Servicing Required

Satellite communications provider Intelsat S.A. has publicly stated that it stands to lose over $300 million in revenue already under contract because of the deployment failure of its New Dawn satellite satellite’s C-band reflector antenna, according to Intelsat financial statements released August 4th, 2011.
Intelsat CEO David McGlade.

This comes within five months of the March 15th, 2011, announcement that Intelsat had entered into a $280 million USD agreement with BC based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) for the on-orbit refueling and servicing of Intelsat satellites, as per the March 15th, 2011 press release "Intelsat Picks MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. for Satellite Servicing."

The deal is still subject to due diligence requirements and there have been recent doubts raised as to whether the proposal would be able to develop a profitable business case, especially given the faint praise the plan has so far received from the U.S. government as outlined in my August 1st, 2011 blog post "MDA, Space-X, NewSpace 2011, EADS, Futron, Shuttle Slagging & Top Gear!."

This current satellite failure is expected to bolster the business case for on orbit satellite servicing.

According to the August 5th, 2011 Space News article "Investigators Cite Design Defect in Intelsat New Dawn Antenna Failure" the recently launched Intelsat New Dawn satellite has been unable to deploy its C-band reflector antenna, which has deprived the satellite of half its intended functionality.

The article also states the reason for the failure as being that the antenna’s spring-loaded deployment mechanism "got caught in the billows of its sun shield."

The satellite, launched April 22nd and considered the first privately launched African satellite, is funded by a South African investor group led by Convergence Partners, and is intended to provide critical communications infrastructure to African customers.

The defect is also expected to cost Intelsat about two years of service life for the New Dawn satellite. According to the article:
The company’s attempts to shake loose the C-band antenna in April and May used about a year’s worth of (on-board) fuel, according to one industry official. The official said New Dawn’s commercial life likely will be cut by another year given the fact that it must be flown in a way that was not planned, with the C-band antenna still tucked against its frame.
New Dawn was originally expected to operate for 15 years in geostationary orbit.

To get a little bit of context for the larger issues involved, here's an interesting video on the future of satellites, broadband, communications and mobile phones, their estimated growth over the next few years, cost comparisons between different systems and a discussion of the "last mile" problem from futurist Patrick Dixon, at Global Exchange.

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