Airbus and Thales Alenia Space-Maxar Consortium Complete Milestones in Bid for Telesat Contract

Telesat Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation. Credit: Telesat.

Telesat has reached another milestone in its efforts to get its proposed Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation off the ground.

The company announced today that Airbus Space and Defence and the consortium of Thales Alenia Space and Maxar have completed the System Definition and Risk Management Phase of the program.

According to a Telesat press release “each team has significantly advanced their detailed designs for the complete LEO system. During this latest phase of the program, both contractor teams performed system optimization, requirements development, engineering trade-offs and technology prototyping to establish mature and compelling designs for Telesat LEO’s space, ground and user terminal segments.”

In its own press release, Airbus additionally stated that as has part of its industrialization plans, a portion of the manufacturing will be completed in Canada. Airbus did not elaborate on what portion of production would be in Canada.

Telesat LEO satellite constellation
Telesat LEO satellite constellation. Credit: Telesat.

Both Airbus and the Thales Alenia Space – Maxar consortium will present their bids to Telesat this summer. With the bids in hand, Telesat will then attempt to secure the necessary funding to build its initial constellation of 117 satellites. The constellation could grow to as many as 512 satellites.

Telesat is facing initial competition from the likes of OneWeb and SpaceX. While Telesat has launched one demonstration satellite to date, OneWeb recently launched its first six satellites and will have their full manufacturing facilities up and running well before Telesat might begin their own full production. OneWeb also has significant funding in place. SpaceX is also a significant competitor.

Competition will be fierce as these companies all vie for parts of the same marketplace. One segment of that marketplace is the rural and remote consumer. They will be one of the winners and will have access to broadband data at speeds not currently available in most rural and remote parts of the world.

This includes Canada’s rural and remote areas which is why the federal government committed $1.7B through its Universal Broadband Fund in the last budget for this very purpose. A portion of the funding will go towards LEO constellations, with Telesat a possible beneficiary.

A story in the Hill Times today quotes a U.S. community development advocacy group, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a critic of LEO satellite broadband access as saying “the market has utterly rejected satellite. We have yet to find a household that uses satellite when DSL, cable, fibre, or terrestrial wireless is available in any meaningful way.” The statement is ridiculous without context. The reasoning behind LEO satellite constellations for broadband access is that there is a market that is underserved and also not being served. The reason why it’s not being served in most cases is the cost of laying cable, fibre etc. to these locations. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance however is focused on rural areas within the US where existing cable and telco’s are not bothering to fund the last mile. So using this group in context to what companies like Telesat, OneWeb etc. are doing is an unfair comparison.

Of note, one potential big winner in the competition between Airbus and the Thales Alenia Space – Maxar consortium could be Maxar. Maxar through its Canadian division MDA, is already on the OneWeb team providing antenna’s for the satellites. Should the Thales Alenia Space – Maxar consortium win the Telesat contract, it will be working on two of the major LEO satellite constellations.

In their most recent quarterly conference call, Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg was asked a question on the types of customers they were expecting and if anything has changed. He said, “I’d say all of our commercial assumptions about who and what verticals LEO offering would appeal to, I’d just say, we’re just seeing greater confirmation of everything we believed. We believe that for the mobility market, for aero and maritime. Our LEO constellation is going to address that market extremely effectively and certainly the demonstration that we did with Global Eagle in many ways validated for us both technically and commercially the assumptions that we’ve made around that. And we’ll be doing more testing with – in the Maritime segment in the near term and in the Backhaul segment in the relative near-term, which are other verticals that we’re very positive about. I’d say the government services market we continue to engage with government users. And here again, I think everything we’ve seen there validates for us that the type of LEO constellation that we’re bringing to market is very much going to address requirements and evolving requirements in that market.”

“I’d also say maybe just as a reminder, our focus is very much the enterprise market, including the government market. We’re not at this point in time focused on the direct-to-consumer market, where we believe that some additional progress needs to be made on the user terminal before a constellation like ours could really effectively serve that market. So, no, we’re up there, very busy on the technical front, on the commercial front, and no, everything that we’re seeing I’d say continues to support our original thesis as to why this is a very good use of our time and energy.”

Goldberg had previously told SpaceQ in an interview that Telesat would not be selling directly to consumers, but that other established companies would buy the service from them, and then sell it directly to consumers.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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