PARIS — Satellite ground station operator Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSat) has booked two contracts valued at about $86 million in recent weeks from well-heeled customers at a time when KSat is looking to attract the lower-profitability NewSpace market for constellations of small satellites.
The new contracts are with NASA and Space Norway. The NASA contract is valued at $4.7 million over four years and likely a total of $14.9 million over 10 years to provide data reception services for NASA’s NiSAR and Pace satellites — “ground-station as-a-service, fully managed and with API´s for request, delivery and monitoring of the service, interfaced with existing cloud solutions,” KSat said of the NASA work.
KSat Chief Executive Rolf Skatteboe said said his company “is the only actor capable of delivering operational services in Ka-band. This service will considerably increase bandwidth, enabling NASA to transmit information faster and more reliably.”
KSat’s Svalbard station in the Arctic at 78 degrees North and its Antarctic TrollSat facility at 72 degrees South offer polar-orbiting satellites a data download capability every 45 minutes in a 90-minute orbit.
The second recent contract is with KSat’s 50% shareholder, Space Norway, to provide ground station service and satellite operations for Space Norways’ two highly elliptical orbit Arctic telecommunications satellites, which will carry payloads for the U.S. Air Force (EHF-band), the Norwegian Ministry of Defence (X-band) and mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat (Ka-band).
The Space Norway contract is valued at 608 million Norwegian kroner, or $71.2 million over 15 years. The satellites are scheduled for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2022. The satellites are under construction by Northrop Grumman: http://bit.ly/2YxmyeG
KSat Chief Executive Rolf Skatteboe said the Space Norway business “is of high strategic, as well as financial, importance” to KSat.
Both the NASA and Space Norway deals will require KSat to invest in new antennas — 11-meter multi mission S-, X- and Ka-band antennas at KSat’s Arctic Svalbard station and at the Punta Arenas station in southern Chile for NASA, and an expanded antenna facility at the company’s Tromso site for Space Norway.
Tromso, Norway-based KSat is also pursuing development of a maritime domain awareness service using satellite-based Automatic Identification System (AIS) sensors and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery. A small Norwegian SAR satellite is scheduled for launch in 2020.
Ground station operations, SAR imagery, AIS ship detection — all these fields are now full of new entrants, commercial and governmental. Whether this new activity is a net benefit to KSat or a competitive headwind remains to be seen.
The company has said developments such as Amazon’s AWS Ground Station are good for the industry and for KSat.
On the NewSpace front, KSat in 2018 introduced KSat Lite, a series of small-aperture antennas priced on a per-pass basis to appeal to startups whose business starts small and then expands with additional satellites.
The KSat Lite service provides upload and download in UHF-, S- and Ku-band, and download in Ka-band.
Skatteboe said in KSat’s 2018 annual report that initial results for the smallsat business were good, but that “It’s a sector with small margins. The company is looking to reduce its operating costs to improve margins.”
KSat has struck deals with NewSpace startups including Hawkeye 360, Iceye, Axelspace and Hiber, and has a contract with the OneWeb global broadband service for data download from the Svalbard facility.
KSat is owned 50% by Space Norway, a government-owned company, and 50% by Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace.
Neither of these investors has much reason to complain about KSat’s performance over the years.
The company has increased revenue in every year but one since its start in 2002. In 2018, revenue was 844 million Norwegian kroner, or $96.7 million at Dec. 31, 2018, exchange rates, up 12% from 2017.
Operating cash flow for the year was 302 million kroner, up 11% from the previous year.
With the increased revenue came increased investment. The company increased its antenna data-download capacity by 18% and at the end of 2018 had 170 antennas at 21 locations making 37,000 contacts per month with customer satellites.
A new facility in Nuuk, Greenland, is expected to be completed this year. Full-time employee headcount increased by 15% in 2018, ending at 190 people.