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Telesat catching up in LEO race

April 13, 2021

Ottawa-based Telesat is reportedly “racing” to launch its 298-craft Low Earth orbiting satellite platform. Even though Telesat is some two years behind Elon Musk’s Starlink, the Canadian company’s CEO, Dan Goldberg says Telesat’s Lightspeed LEO system will be the company’s “Holy Grail” and deliver a “sustainable competitive advantage in global broadband delivery”.

Telesat is certainly up against a few serious challenges. Top of the list is Elon Musk’s Starlink, now with some 1400 satellites in orbit and growing towards 3000 by the end of this year. Starlink is already active and has clients using its service.

A second threat is OneWeb, a UK/India joint venture which has more than 100 satellites in orbit, and promising a service introduction to northern latitudes towards the end of this year.

A third threat is Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and backer of Amazon. Bezos – like Musk – is building his own rockets but all is quiet on his Project Kuiper low Earth orbiting system.

Telesat has more than a few advantages. It has a long history of successfully operating satellites, albeit the higher orbiting geo-stationary versions. It also has a portfolio of clients. Moreover, it has the backing of Canada’s government.

Telesat’s LEO fleet is being built by Thales Alenia Space and the first launch is set for 2023.

Coincidentally, Telesat has contracted some of its satellite launches with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin fleet. However, Telesat’s CTO David Wending is hedging his options and is having discussions with Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket system as well as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Wending says a decision will be made in the next few months as to launch suppliers.

There is one other key difference between Musk’s Starlink and Telesat. Musk is looking to attract consumers from around the planet. Telesat is focusing on business and governmental clients.

The local Quebec regional government is promising C$400 million while the Canadian government is pitching in with C$600 million. This funding will help. Telesat is also considering a return to a public float, initially on the NASDAQ and possibly on the Toronto exchange thereafter.

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