PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat said it should know by late November whether the solar-array defect on the Eutelsat 5 West B satellite launched Oct. 9 will result in a total or partial loss.
The company said that the 5 West A satellite, which 5 West B was designed to replace, has enough fuel to remain in three-axis stabilized orbit until December. Eutelsat said multiple options are being considered in the event of the definitive loss of 5 West B, including keeping the 5 West A on station, but in inclined orbit, which would affect some, but possibly not all, of the satellite’s current revenue base.
The company said it was also uncertain as to whether the 5 West B anomaly, which it did not describe, could affect the other solar array.
“We have not yet identified the source of the incident,” Eutelsat Chief Financial Officer Sandrine Téran said in an Oct. 30 investor call on Eutelsat’s financial results for the three months ending Sept. 30.
The 5 West A generated 30 million euros ($34.1 million) in revenue for the 12 months ending June 30, 2019. The 5 West B, whose platform was built by Northrop Grumman, was to replace this and to add the equivalent of 7 million euros per year over 15 years in a contract with the European Commission to host a GNSS positioning, navigation and timing payload to overlay services provided by the U.S. GPS and Europe’s Galileo medium-Earth satellite constellations.
Téran said 5 West B was insured for up to 173 million euros.
Industry officials said a satellite like 5 West B likely would be unable to perform most of its revenue-generating function if one of its two solar arrays remained out of service.
Asked whether Eutelsat would expect to declare 5 West B a total loss in that event, Téran said: “This is one of the questions being looked at by the inquiry. We need to understand the source of the incident to assess if it may have an impact on the second one [solar array].”
The loss of 37 million euros in revenue for the year ending June 30, 2020 may be enough to affect Eutelsat’s forecast of stable performance in its broadcast segment, which accounts for 62% of Eutelsat’s total revenue.
That is all the more true given the mixed results for the first three months of Eutelsat’s current fiscal year. The broadcast division reported a 1.7% decline in revenue following a contract termination in Zimbabwe and the return, by a Russian customer, of two transponders. Eutelsat Deputy Chief Executive Michel Azibert said the Russian capacity is likely to be resold, minimizing that impact.
Eutelsat’s broadband segment — which along with IoT service is Eutelsat’s stated future growth engine — was down 3.3%. The Ka-band Konnect satellite over Africa, which had been set for launch this year, has slipped to early 2020, reducing its contribution to 2019-2020 fiscal-year revenue.