Comsat manufacturers hoping to dodge downturn: FI


Commercial satellite manufacturers are hoping to dodge the current global econo-financial recession and position themselves for an anticipated post-slum boon. That’s the view of market researchers Forecast International.

In its latest study, “The Market for Commercial Communications Satellites: 2009-2018,” Forecast International is projecting deliveries of approximately 262 commercial communications satellites destined for geostationary or medium-Earth orbit, worth $38.7 billion, during the next 10 years.

The low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) market, comprising satellites primarily for the provision of mobile communi­cations, will see production of 142 spacecraft worth about $2.7 billion.

Most of the LEO spacecraft forecast for production are in response to the solidification of fleet replacement plans for ORBCOMM and Globalstar, the research house adds.

“The demand for high-definition television services and mobile satellite services will serve to load the order books for satellite manufacturers globally during the next 10 years,” expands John Edwards, Forecast International Space Systems editor.

He adds that there “will be a slight spike over the next 36 months, with purchases tapering off somewhat in subsequent years.”

Twenty-five spacecraft were ordered in 2008, a slight increase over the 23 ordered in 2007. Early indications for 2009 point to a solid year for commercial communications satellite orders.

In spite of a highly unfavorable dollar exchange rate, European manufacturers are holding their own in the commercial communications satellite market.

Looking ahead, there should be 20 to 25 orders per year on the open market over the next five years.

More than two-thirds of these orders – about 69 percent – will be replacement satellites for existing fleets.The remainder will be for new operators or new applications in the industry.

Thales Alenia Space, and the company`s Spacebus series, will continue to maintain a healthy share of the communications satellite market in the near term. Keeping with the trend toward longer-lasting communications spacecraft, much of the production in the latter half of the decade is expected to shift over to the Spacebus 4000 platform. Of the 20 to 25 satellites per year, European manufacturers Astrium and Thales Alenia are expected to capture four or five each.

The main rivals to the European heavyweights are Space Systems/Loral and Orbital Sciences.

Loral, offering its 1300 platform, addresses the large commercial satellite market, while Orbital Sciences’ STAR platform courts the smaller commercial satellite market. Space Systems/Loral expanded its manufacturing capacity to address near-term increased satellite demand by reaching an agreement to use Northrop Grumman’s satellite test facilities and services in Redondo Beach, California.

Some operators are choosing to order satellites weighing less than 3000 kilograms in a trend that bodes well for Orbital Sciences, and the outlook for its STAR platform is solid.

Manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Boeing are primarily focused on the US military satellite market. What will be interesting to see is what happens when several defense programs like GOES, GPS, Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) and others are completed, Edwards adds.

“Theoretically, the completion of these programs will free Boeing and Lockheed Martin to pursue more commercial work. Forecast International expects this will be the case, and in the 2014 timeframe we should see these two heavyweights back in the commercial game in a big way.”

Overall, most sectors of the aerospace industry either are experiencing a sharp decline in business or are anticipating one. However, despite the global economic downturn, commercial satellite operators can expect continued growth.

While growth for the operators does not always translate into busy production lines for satellite manufacturers, Forecast International expects all of the large operators to order plenty of spacecraft during the next 10 years.