Friday, March 14, 2014

Boeing Electric Satellite Backlog Poised To Grow

The L-3 Comms xenon-ion propulsion system (XIPS) used aboard the Boeing 702SP is said to be one of the lighter electric-propulsion technologies on the market, maximizing the weight savings but at a price of lower thrust. 

Credit: Boeing

Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, which booked a headline-grabbing four-satellite order for its new all-electric 702SP satellite design in March 2012 and has gone two years without another commercial order, on March 11 said it would sign a new customer within weeks.

At Satellite 2014, Boeing officials also said they had sold three 702SP satellites to an unidentified U.S. government customer in 2013, an order that presumably allowed the government buyer to profit from scale economies by piggybacking on the original four-satellite contract.

One industry official said Calif.-based Boeing has already signed an authorisation to proceed with the unidentified commercial customer, and that the coming contract was all but certain.

Boeing’s first 702SP order was with Satmex of Mexico, now part of Eutelsat Americas following its January acquisition by Eutelsat of Paris, and ABS of Hong Kong. Each operator agreed to purchase two satellites.

Jim Simpson
Jim Simpson, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, said the four options that were purchased along with the four firm orders expire at the end of this year.

Patricio Northland, chief executive of Eutelsat Americas, said the company is negotiating with Boeing to extend the option deadline to permit his company to validate the 702SP’s performance, or at least its orbit-raising ability, before purchasing more spacecraft.

The first two 702SP satellites, one for Eutelsat Americas and one for ABS, are scheduled for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in early 2015.

Simpson said that while this represents a slight delay from the original planning, it is within the contract terms calling for delivery between December 2014 and March 2015.

The xenon-ion propulsion system used aboard the 702SP is said to be one of the lighter electric-propulsion technologies on the market, maximizing the weight savings but at a price of lower thrust.

The satellites will require between six and eight months to travel from where they are dropped off by the Falcon 9 to final geostationary position.

Russian satellites have been using electric propulsion for decades. It is used to effectively maintain their satellites in a stable geostationary orbit.

They are generally smaller than Western satellites and are usually launched aboard the heavy-lift Proton rocket, which can carry them directly to their final geostationary position.

But the Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow recently experimented with using electric propulsion to perform the full orbit-raising task.

RSCC’s Express-AM5, launched aboard a Proton in December, reached its final operating position only in March as it used its electric propulsion thrusters to perform the orbit-raising maneuver.

Andrey Kirillovich, RSCC’s director for integration services and turnkey projects, said March 13 that the satellite’s thrusters performed as designed.

He said Express-AM5, whose payload was provided by MDA Corp. of Canada with a platform built by ISS Reshetnev of Russia, is in good health at its operation location at 140 degrees east.

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