Saturn Satellite Networks founder Tom Choi. Credit: Euroconsult

PARIS — Russia asked the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for more time to place the first NationSat satellite from startup manufacturer Saturn Satellite Networks Inc. into geostationary position because of a delay with a co-passenger on the SpaceX launch.

Acting on behalf of the Moscow-based Intersputnik international satellite organization, the Russian Federation said the satellite, intended for 98 degrees East, will miss its regulatory deadline of June 29, 2020, by about 10 months because of the delayed launch.

In a letter to the Geneva-based ITU, SpaceX confirmed that the unnamed co-passenger will be unable to make the original launch slot of May 1 to June 25, 2020. The launch has been rescheduled to between Oct. 1, 2020 , and March 31, 2021, SpaceX said.

Intersputnik said Saturn informed the organization of the delay on Aug. 27, and told the RRB that the project’s economics collapse if the launch were to proceed with NationSat as the sole payload.

The request to the ITU’s Radio Regulations Board is likely to be approved.

Saturn Satellite Networks of California is debuting a product line of 2.5-kW satellites weighing a maximum of 1,700 kilograms at launch. Saturn has said that the spacecraft, which it calls NationSats, are designed to cost no more than $70 million including the satellite’s construction, launch, insurance and ground control station.

SpaceX has been selling commercial geostationary-orbit launches well under its $60 million advertised price, according to individuals. Dividing this launch cost between two customers would make a $70-million all-in cost achievable.

Saturn was founded by satellite industry veteran Tom Choi, a founder of fleet operator ABS:

Intersputnik is the first customer for this product line. The organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment on which of its member countries, and which company, will operate the satellite, but it appears to be Russia.

The current fleet of satellites on which Intersputnik has capacity. Credit: Intersputnik

The project represents a new business for Intersputnik, which for years has been weighing the idea of having its own satellites rather than lease capacity on its member governments’ spacecraft.

The organization agreed to create a special-purpose investment fund to provide seed capital to business plans judged promising in Intersputnik member nations. Intersputnik provides an initial $750,000 in a five-year, low-interest loan, and also purchases equity in the venture.

The organization has set aside $4.5 million to organize tenders once or twice a year for NationSat-type projects.

Choi has said Saturn’s business model is based on persuading emerging-market nations to purchase small, relatively inexpensive satellites with enough capacity in C-, Ku- or Ka-band to cover specific territories for television broadcasting, consumer broadband or corporate network data links.

Saturn has estimated that African nations alone make some $1.5 billion in annual bandwidth-lease payments to the largest global satellite fleet operators including SES, Intelsat, Eutelsat and Telesat. Breaking their grip on emerging markets is a Saturn goal.

These established operators have long faced competition from what are sometimes called “pride sats,” built to show the national flag but absent much of a long-term business plan.

As a largely fixed-cost business, satellite telecommunications benefits from scale economies that the larger fleet operators say can be passed on to customers so that, over time, emerging-market nations do not pay more than they would with their own satellite.

But the Saturn idea is for much smaller satellites that have the standard 15-year service life and can limit their coverage to a national territory, right-sizing the infrastructure for these governments.

That’s just as well for this satellite at 98 degrees east, a crowded area of the geostationary arc with Chinasat satellites 0.1 degrees to the west and 0.3 degrees to the east.

Intersputnik said the NationSat idea “has already caught the interest of several countries.”