Orbital, Airbus team to build Eutelsat satellite to launch with Orbital satellite-servicing mission

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 11 said it had inaugurated its design-to-cost spending-reduction plan by ordering a direct-broadcast television satellite from Orbital ATK of the United States and Airbus Defence and Space of Europe.

In another cost-reduction measure, the satellite, Eutelsat 5 West B — benefiting from Orbital’s smaller platform size — will be launched in 2018 as a co-passenger aboard an International Launch Services Proton Breeze-M rocket.

Riding to geostationary transfer orbit with the Eutelsat satellite will be Orbital’s precedent-setting satellite in-orbit serving Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, which uses the same GEOStar-based platform as Orbital’s telecommunications satellites.

Stacking the savings on a single Proton

Stacking two GEOStar-derived platforms on top of each other, without an adaptor between them, saves weight and will allow Eutelsat — and Orbital, for the MEV-1 — to save on launch costs.

Fleet operator Intelsat is Orbital’s inaugural customer for MEV-1, which will perform a test mission with Intelsat before moving on to its operational scenario of docking with a satellite, assuming control of its propulsion and attitude control, and providing fuel to extend its service life.

MEV-1 then undocks and is available to perform similar mission-extension missions on several satellites. Like the satellites themselves, MEV-1 has an estimated 15-year service life.

Satellite insurers are taking a cautiously optimistic view of MEV-1 and similar satellite in-orbit servicing initiatives. They have said MEV-1 customers likely will be forced to sign amended, higher-premium insurance policies, which usually provide for annual coverage of healthy satellites in orbit, to reflect the higher risk associated with servicing missions.

Eutelsat 5 West B will replace the Eutelsat 5 West A satellite at 5 degrees west longitude. It will carry the equivalent of 35 36-megahertz Ku-band transponders to deliver direct-to-home television to audiences located mainly in France, Italy and Algeria.

Eutelsat 5A, which also carries a C-band payload, was launched in mid-2002 and is nearing retirement.

Eutelsat’s revenue and profit warning in May had a chilling effect on the entire fixed satellite services industry. The company said the market reaction was overblown and that growth would return within three years.

Nonetheless, Eutelsat announced a broad cost-cutting program that included a 16 percent reduction — to 420 million euros ($470 million) per year for the coming three years from the earlier 500 million euros — in annual capital spending for three years.

The company said it would be pressuring its supply chain, notably satellite builders and launch-service providers, to minimize the effects of the lower spending on new capacity to be placed into orbit.

Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital’s GEOStar platform occupies the lighter end of the commercial geostationary-orbit satellite market. Airbus said the Eutelsat 5 West B would have a launch mass of about 3,000 kilograms and would generate 5 kilowatts of power to the payload at the end of its 15-year life.

Eutelsat Chief Technology Officer Yohann Leroy said the idea to marry an Airbus payload with an Orbital-built platform emerged as the natural consequence of Eutelsat’s bid request, whose power specifications were below what Airbus usually provides to customers.

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