Satellite operator SES has seven ‘small’ satellites on order for its O3b division, called mPower craft, and being constructed by Boeing. They are scheduled for launch in 2021, and are small enough to fit three or four at a time onto a SpaceX rocket.
These seven are to orbit as Mid-Earth orbiters, but SES has made no secret that its ‘next generation’ fleet, for operation in conventional Geostationary orbit, will also be much smaller in size and weight that today’s typical geo-stationary craft.
Intelsat is following a similar path.
A timely report from analysts at Norther Sky Research (NSR) asks whether these small Geo-satellites are a viable option for operators. NSR says: “With rising competition in most countries, and decreasing break-even pricing via ever more efficient satellites and reduced launch costs, many operators see large GEO sats as quite risky for regional appetite.”
NSR says a small Geo satellite, weighing perhaps 300-1000 kgs, with a cost of $65 million -$100 million could solve the need for a High Throughput Capacity (of 10-30 Gb/s) and niche operating needs.
While $65 million – $100 million might be a relatively low cost to pay to enter an untapped region, the bottom line for operators is that such a solution – on a price/Gigabit – is some two or three-times the cost per Gb/s of a larger multi-beamed, multi-bandwidth craft.
NSR says that compared to Very High Throughput systems (VHTS) with average break-even pricing at $12/Mb/s/Mo (100 per cent fill-rate theoretical assumption), this is high, and a break-even price between $33-50 per Mb/s per Month can only be competitive for regions with delayed VHTS capacity or with focus on high revenue per Mbps verticals. Breaking out by lifetime, a more compact range towards feasible break-even pricing, and capacity per satellite can be [created]”.
But there are other advantages, says NSR. Reducing CapEx risk is always beneficial, and a smaller craft allows potential pre-sales to be achieved faster with a speedier time-to-market. A small satellite can also be used as a gap-filler until larger amounts of business build up.