Arabsat on growth track

Arabsat’s current procurement and RFPs include options for all-electric satellites, thereby saving weight and thus significantly trimming launch costs. Khalid Balkheyour, CEO at Arabsat, says that all options are open for discussion on the RFPs now being examined. “We also gave [the potential suppliers] the option of quoting for one large satellite or two smaller craft, although each solution would give us a different business case to consider.”

“We’re busy working on the procurements of these new satellites,” he added. “HellasSat is settling in well. We have been able to fully consolidate the teams as well as working out how the financial side of the business will work. The past few months or so has also seen us make the commitment to HellasSat-3 (a joint-venture satellite with Inmarsat).”

“But the procurement programme is a busy one. As well as the Inmarsat-Hellas-Sat craft we another craft for Hellas-Sat, and have two RFPs out for Arabsat, our Arabsat 6E and 6A. We are evaluating proposals for these now and hope to confirm them before the end of this year. There’s also BADR-7 (sometimes known as Arabsat 6B) which is scheduled to be launched during Q3/2015. This will also carry a Ka-band payload.”

Balkheyour said the whole question of electric propulsion was only now a practical option because of the fleet it already had in place. “In the past we were always very eager to get our satellites in position, on station because they were needed. Now that we’re expanding we can look more closely at the commercial need, and balance those against costs. Can we make a case to delay while the electric satellite is raised to its position? Is it worthwhile commercially? It is those options and permutations that we are studying. We can obviously manage some delay, especially if it is a back-up craft and where we already have cover. A smaller craft also allows us to include SpaceX in the launch options.”

Asked whether another Hellas-Sat deal could be managed over time, Balkheyour said Arabsat’s objective is to grow. “We are doing well with the fleet. We are looking at expanding with more orbital slots. But as everyone knows there are other ways to grow besides organically. The Hellas-Sat deal was one such opportunity. The part-ownership with Inmarsat is another. There could be more of these, or a joint-venture at a new position. The message is to be flexible. But if it makes business sense we will consider it. We clearly need to first digest the Hellas-Sat purchase so it might be a while before we do another acquisition, but all the other options are open.”

“I frequently say to our shareholders that some of them are also our competitors. In fact many of them are now our competitors! But we have to recognise that sometimes the drive to launch satellites is not simply commercial. They are flagship, political projects. We understand this. But if a project is a national flagship satellite then there’s not likely to be a merger or consolidation. Looking out 5 or 6 years I do not see that position changing much. I know from experience how challenging it is to create a separate joint-venture or something similar to house these sorts of projects. But one option that I’d like to see progress on is for those nations who want a single satellite to consider a joint project. This could be possible, and would be win-win for both parties.”

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