Inmarsat’s decision to go with Boeing Satellite Systems (BSS) for its Global Xpress deal marks a major step forward in the aerospace giant’s goal to return in force to the commercial satellite business.
In the last decade, BSS saw its commercial activities largely vanish in the wake of engineering glitches, lawsuits and skyrocketing defense demand that caused it to shift its focus to military space. However, with U.S. defense budget growth on the wane, illustrated by the department’s decision to cancel the Transformational Satellite (TSAT) system, the U.S. manufacturer is being forced to change course.
Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Space and Intelligence Systems (S&IS) at Boeing Defense, Space & Security, says the company will attempt to raise commercial satellite sales to 30% of the company’s space business within five years, up from 10% now.
Large investments in military broadband and other new technologies that are in heavy demand in the commercial world — many of them intended for TSAT — are expected to help. Rupert Pearce, senior vice president of Inmarsat Enterprises, notes that through its role in the Defense Department’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) system, Boeing has supplied more than 70% of Ka-band capacity worldwide.
BSS also moved to broaden its product line to more closely hew to commercial requirements. The launch of the 702 MP spacecraft last year provided an offering in the popular medium-size segment of the industry that immediately led to a four-satellite award — two firm and two to be assigned later — from Intelsat. The first spacecraft under that award, carrying an Australian-hosted military payload, is to be launched in 2012.
The three Global Xpress satellites, to be handed over by 2014, provide a welcome boost to the top-of-the-line 702 HP satellite bus (Aerospace DAILY, Aug. 9).
Equally important, they give Boeing a foothold in the fast-growing market for high-throughput Ka-band satellites, intended to meet mushrooming demand for broadband Internet access. This sector had previously been dominated by Space Systems/Loral — said to be one of the losing bidders for Global Xpress — and Astrium. The other reported loser, Thales Alenia Space, has been developing a new 12-18-kw. bus, in cooperation with Astrium, to better address the market.
Together, the Inmarsat and Intelsat sales have rejuvenated BSS’s commercial satellite business, which in recent years has averaged barely one unit per year. Jim Simpson, vice president of marketing development and sales at BSS, predicts at least one-two annual sales of 702 HP and MP models in the years to come.
Boeing management expects commercial success, in turn, to drive more government business, particularly in areas like communications, where technologies and satellites can be widely shared. Roger Krone, president of Network and Space Systems at Boeing, says, “There is more dialogue than ever before” for hosted payloads, in particular. Krone also thinks the Defense Department will need up to six more WGSs, including two units for which only long-lead items have been ordered to date.