A week ago Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) was talking openly of closing (or perhaps selling or merging) its Palo Alto satellite construction facility, and blaming the decision on the downturn in commercial geostationary satellite orders. SS/L stated that 2019 might see no more than 8 or 9 new orders, and when divided amongst the industry this was not enough to sustain the Palo Alto factory.
However, Airbus Defence & Space, which has its main manufacturing base in Toulouse, France, while admitting that the likely order flow is less than ideal, let it be known that they were still anticipating an annual average of 15-18 satellites to be ordered over the next few years.
While Airbus would expect to win its fair share of this highly competitive business sector, there is now little doubt that its order book might now benefit from the uncertainty over SS/L’s commitment to the geostationary sector.
Nicolas Chamussy, Airbus’ EVP at the Airbus, said that while the number was less than the 20-25 units that the builders have enjoyed over the past few years. Moreover, Chamussy said that Airbus had a detailed database of the satellites in orbit and their expected lifespans, and it is this data which suggests the overall number of replacement and new satellites which will be needed.
One important factor is the emergence of a new type of geostationary craft: the refueling/space tug missions now being ordered. SES and Intelsat both have life-extension satellites on order (and Intelsat has ordered its mission extension satellite from SS/L’s owners, Maxar technologies).
This year, to date, just 6 commercial satellites have been ordered.