Sky and Space Global nears 1st launch of narrowband fleet
April 10, 2017
PARIS — Start-up satellite voice and messaging service provider Sky and Space Global (SSG) faces at least a month’s launch delay for its first three satellites but can delay payment on its full constellation until the spacecraft are operational, the company said.
Australia-based SSG is a “New Space” company with Old Space characteristics. It’s using only space-qualified components and has signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to facilitate tracking of the satellites to reduce the chance of collision with other satellites — although few companies operate spacecraft in 600-kilometer equatorial orbit.
The company has purchased a full insurance package and its satellites include on-board propulsion to maneuver in orbit and to deorbit at the end of their five- to seven-year mission.
Retiring 25% of the fleet per year, whether it needs it or not
Or even before then. In one of its New Space features, the company says it plans to deorbit one-quarter of its eventual 200-satellite constellation every year after the first few years of service, regardless of whether they are healthy, to avoid obsolescence.
SSG appears to be among the most advanced of the latest crop of low-orbit satellite telecommunications companies.
In March it contracted with GomSpace of Denmark and Sweden, the builder of the first three spacecraft, to construct the full 200-satellite constellation. The contract is valued at between 35 million and 55 million euros, or between $37 million and $58 million at current exchange rates.
The spread in the contract’s value is due to the fact that SSG has not decided on how many satellites GomSpace will build as an initial batch. The company has presented investors with 100- and 200-satellite scenarios.
The first three SSG satellites, called Diamonds, are scheduled for launch in late May aboard an Indian PSLV rocket. The launch, arranged by Innovative Space Logistics BV of The Netherlands, was recently delayed a month, to late May, SSG said April 6.
The launch in question is carrying India’s 700-kilogram Cartosat 2E Earth observation satellite as the main payload, along with around two dozen small satellites including the three 3-kilogram SSG Diamonds. The launch will be to around 600 kilometers in altitude.
In its 2016 report to investors, SSG reported a pretax loss of 4.7 million Australian dollars on revenue of 24,400 Australian dollars. Cash on hand at Dec. 31 was 5.4 million Australian dollars
SSG has contracted for four launches with start-up launch-service provider Virgin Galactic to launch the 200-satellite constellation on Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne rocket, which has not yet flown. SSG is planning LauncherOne missions between 2018 and 2020.
Capex commitment starts once first three satellites are operational
The company said the contract for the full constellation takes effect only after the first three satellites have been tested in orbit and declared ready for commercial operation about eight weeks after launch.
Contract terms for the Virgin Galactic launches have not been disclosed, but SSG Chief Executive Meir Moalem said the company estimates that it needs $150 million in annual business to maintain its operations including the replacement of a quarter of the constellation every year.
Moalem said SSG is positioning itself as the low-cost alternative to competing fleets, which include satellites in low and geostationary-transfer orbit operated by Inmarsat, Thuraya, Iridium and Globalstar. SSG said it has plans for an expansion beyond the equatorial belt with a 1,000-satellite constellation. Its competitors offer global or near-global coverage.
Stealing a page from O3b Networks, a medium-Earth-orbit broadband Internet constellation operating over the equator, SSG will also use an equatorial orbit to provide service to customers between 15 degrees north and south of the equator.
The constellation will use S-band frequencies for inter-satellite links and UHF- and S-band for mission control. Its main customers are corporate networks and telecommunications network operators.
Licensed through Britain’s Ofcom regulator, SSG has received approval from the UK Defence Ministry for the first three satellites to use UHF-frequencies until the end of 2019, with the possibility of an extended agreement.
SSG has said revenue generation from several African customers will begin with the first three satellites, easing the stress on cash flow in 2017.
Within two or three years of the launch of the 100-satellite constellation, SSG said it could be generating annual revenue of 400 million Australian dollars by selling 10,000 MHz of capacity and 1 billion minutes of connectivity per year. The 200-satellite constellation would double that revenue within three to five years of deployment, the company said.
The company conducted an IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange in May 2016 and as of April 10 its market capitalization was 113 million Australian dollars.
Peter B. de Selding