Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES and Paris-based rival Eutelsat might be fierce competitors but they agree on at least one point: As an industry, the operators need a choice of rocket launchers for their new satellites. And “multiple” in the sense of more than two.
The past few years have seen Russia’s Proton supply much of the competition to launch industry leader Arianespace. There is also additional choice in the USA’s SpaceX from Elon Musk, which is an increasingly popular launch option for many operators.
But recent technical problems with Proton, as well as a certain degree of uncertainty because of the risks of further ‘Western’ sanction on Russia, have meant reduced confidence in the Proton vehicle.
In a panel discussion last week at the Paris Air Forum, both SES’ CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh and his Eutelsat opposite number Michel de Rosen were wholly agreed that the industry needed more than two reliable and cost-effective launch companies.
There are other options, which could one day include Indian and Japanese launchers. Top of the list of proven rocket launchers is China’s Long March vehicle, but that too is beset by legal problems given that the USA’s export restrictions prevent any US-made parts being used on satellites being ‘exported’ for a Chinese launch. Both executives hoped that these restrictions would be eliminated and allow again the Long March rocket to be a viable contender.
De Rosen took exception to comments made during the Forum that suggested that SpaceX was receiving some sort of ‘under the table’ subsidy from the US government, and stated bluntly that SpaceX was winning contracts, not receiving subsidies and that these contracts were still worth less than the total of European tax-payer funding made to Arianespace over the years.