Satellite operators have ordered more than 10 new satellites and contracted launch service providers for a multi-billion dollar investment in C-band coverage
This huge investment is required by the US administration to provide new capacity for national roll-out of 5G communications, which will boost connectivity around coasts, ports and inland waterways.
Intelsat has finalised all of its required contracts with satellite manufacturers and launch-vehicle providers for expansion of its C-band fleet
It needs to invest in new satellites to meet US federal requirements for clearing C-band spectrum for future 5G connectivity and to enhance its VSAT solutions to maritime.
Intelsat has contracted SpaceX and Arianespace to launch these satellites on four separate rockets, beginning in 2022.
It has also ordered seven satellites from Maxar Technologies and Northrop Grumman for delivery from 2022.
Diversity of manufacturers and launch-vehicle providers will lower investment costs and help Intelsat mitigate potential launch-delay risks.
This investment was primarily required to accelerate C-band spectrum clearing timelines established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this year, says Intelsat director of maritime mobility Shane Rossbacher.
Intelsat is reconfiguring its satellite and terrestrial infrastructure to enable 5G deployment in C-band.
It will relocate its existing customer services to the upper part of the C-band to make way for 5G services in the lower portion of the band.
“Satellite operators are working on clearing 300 MHz of the spectrum and moving their existing services to the upper portion of the band. This will require investments from all operators,” said Mr Rossbacher.
“The maritime industry relies on C-band spectrum to deliver services. The shipping industry needs this highly reliable spectrum in regions with specific weather patterns,” he explained.
Other VSAT bands, Ku and Ka, are affected by rain attenuation, impacting data, video and voice services. But C-band is less susceptible.
“C-band wide beams reinforce high-throughput coverage for added resiliency and redundancy, enabling higher efficiency and improved throughput,” says Mr Rossbacher.
“Intelsat 35e’s unique payload of C-band wide and spot beams was designed to respond to these specific needs, amongst others.”
This is why Intelsat worked for the past few years with the FCC, its customers, industry stakeholders, vendors, and other satellite operators to create a clear path for meeting the FCC’s accelerated clearing deadlines, while safeguarding the high-quality services that its customers and end-users expect.
“We know that a robust, always-on connectivity has become crucial for maritime companies to operate, but also meet the crew’s and passengers’ growing needs,” says Mr Rossbacher.
“While some investments will be necessary, our network can always assure robust maritime coverage.
“We are confident that we have everything in place to ensure the successful transitioning of the C-band spectrum while executing a seamless transition for our customers.”
Maxar is building five of the required C-band satellites and Northrop Grumman is manufacturing two.
“We have now finalised all of the required contracts with satellite manufacturers and launch-vehicle providers to move forward and meet the C-band spectrum clearing timelines established by the FCC,” says Mr Rossbacher.
Arianespace confirmed it will launch Intelsat’s (Maxar-built) satellites Galaxy 35, Galaxy 36 and Galaxy 37, on Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launch vehicles in 2022 and 2023.
In August, Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket launched the second Northrop Grumman’s subsidiary Space Logistics’s MEV-2 mission-extension vehicle along with Intelsat satellite, Galaxy 30, from the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana.
Galaxy-30 will play an important role in its US C-band spectrum transition plan. MEV-2 will be used to extend the life of the Intelsat 10-02 satellite from Q1 2021. This satellite provides broadband services across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Intelsat’s required investment and debt levels meant its finances needed restructuring, so the company voluntarily entered into US Bankruptcy Code Chapter 11 protection in May.
“We are at a transformational moment in the history of our company,” said Mr Rossbacher. “We have chosen to undertake a financial restructuring that will better position us for long-term success, with additional resources and wind in our sails.”
Intelsat expects to have a new capital structure with substantially less debt once it comes out of bankruptcy protection.
“This will mean a much stronger balance sheet position for the company, that will complement the strong operating model that we have today,” said Mr Rossbacher.
“It will position the company for continued investment, continued development of new services, continued build-out of our network, and a return to growth of the business.
Intelsat has secured commitments for US$1Bn of new financing. “A strong indication that our business model and plans for future growth remain solid,” he adds.
SES is also investing in new satellites to comply with FCC’s accelerated relocation programme for C-band. It expects relocation payments of US$3.97Bn, with the first repayment, linked to success milestones, expected in Q4 2021 and another in Q4 2023.
It contracted Northrop Grumman and the Boeing to manufacture and assemble the C-band satellites in June. They will deliver four satellites at a combined cost of US$1.6Bn.
Northrop Grumman will produce GeoStar-3 satellites, SES-18 and SES-19, in Dulles, Virginia. Boeing will manufacture 702SP satellites – SES-20 and SES-21 – in in Los Angeles, California. Each satellite will have 10 primary transponders of 36 MHz.
SES also contracted SpaceX to launch satellites on its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2022.
In addition, SpaceX is scheduled to launch SES’ next-generation, medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites O3b mPower in two batches. The first of these is scheduled in mid-2021 and the second in the middle of 2022.