Erwin Hudson, vice president, Telesat LEO. Credit: Telesat

PARIS — Telesat expects to select a prime contractor for its multibillion-dollar LEO broadband constellation by mid-2019 from competing bids by Airbus Defense and Space on the one hand and a joint bid of Maxar Technologies’ SSL and MDA with Thales Alenia Space, said Erwin Hudson, vice president of Telesat LEO.

Hudson said Sept. 11 that Telesat will be making its first big review of the bidders’ work in the coming weeks.

Maxar has estimated that the winning team would get a contract valued at around $3 billion.

Telesat’s design is a system that scales from 112 satellites in the first phase, then to 192, then 292 and 512 satellites. “You can’t just add a couple of satellites here and there, it scales in chunks,” Hudson said.

The current Telesat schedule, assuming financing is secured, is to begin service starting in late 2022 and then to add capacity gradually.

The core constellation of about 300 satellites provides up to 6 terabits per second of throughput, a figure he said was not calculation of per-satellite capacity multiplied by the number of satellites in orbit.

“It would be cheating” to count it that way, he said, given the amount of time that a LEO constellation spends over the oceans and poles, with little customer interest. “What we refer refer to as sellable capacity is actual capacity that is above someone we believe would be willing to pay a fair price to buy that capacity.”

Even Telesat competitors have said that among the LEO constellations, Telesat’s design of inclined and polar orbits, with inter satellite links, has merits that others’ are missing.

For Hudson, the Telesat architecture is by nature expandable. It doesn’t “scale to a certain point and then stop,” he said. “We’re trying to design a system that has natural steps in how you would expand. We have natural breakpoints at 112, 192, 292, 512, that’s how the constellation scales. Our initial constellation is targeted at 112. Our business plan is largely based around 292, but designed to scale to 512.”

Telesat’s license with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is for 117 satellites. The company may request amendments to add spacecraft to the initial design, but has not yet done so, he said.