One session at the SATELLITE 2018 conference was dedicated to the major global satellite manufacturers: Boeing, Maxar SSL, Orbital ATK, Thales Alenia Space, Airbus DS and Lockheed Martin were all in attendance. All of these companies are primarily known for their production of medium-to-large geostationary communications satellites. However, this market has suffered from a reduction in orders in recent years. Yet, the point that all these grand manufacturers wished to make was, “we’re not just GEO manufacturers”. And when asked about the tried and true business metric of “GEO orders per year” the response was often “there are much nicer metrics to be measured against e.g. Gbps in orbit, or Number of non-GEO satellite orders”.
In particular the European participants – Airbus and Thales Alenia – were keen to point out their not inconsiderable presence in the non-GEO market. Thales Alenia is well known throughout the industry as a capable supplier of LEO constellations, following the use of its ELiTeBUS smallsat platform for the Globalstar Second Generation and Iridium-NEXT constellations. Airbus is currently building the first 10 satellites for the planned OneWeb constellation, and is part of a joint venture with OneWeb – called OneWeb Satellites – to build the remaining, and any future, OneWeb satellites at a construction site in Florida. The new facility under construction is touted to use production line practices taken from the automotive industry to produce up to four new satellites every day.
The other manufacturers have hardly been slack either. Lockheed Martin recently announced the refresh of their satellite bus product line, with three out of the four platforms designed for use in non-GEO orbits. Boeing is building the MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) SES mPower satellites based on their popular 702 platform. Meanwhile Orbital ATK have continued to innovate with their highly adaptable GeoStar platform; as evidenced by their announcement concerning their new MRV and MEP in-orbit servicing vehicles.
Maxar’s SSL finds itself in a unique position amongst its industry colleagues (though perhaps for not much longer with the proposed purchase of manufacturing compatriot Orbital ATK by aerospace giant Northrop Grumman) as part of the newly formed Maxar group alongside component manufacturer MDA, high-resolution Earth-Imagery provider DigitalGlobe and data services provider Radiant Solutions. This vertically integrated company provides structure and security for its constituent businesses in an increasingly strained market. However, it was noted others on the panel that this was not the end-all answer and is not applicable for everyone.
All of the manufacturers have seen that the market is changing and have taken their own steps to address this. The message that the participants of this panel wanted to convey was that they are ready for, and optimistic of their chances in, the coming years.
Antenna manufacturers looking forward to large demand increases
A later panel was populated by players in the antenna production arena: Globecomm, Phasor, Isotropic Systems, INTEGRASYS. Ball Aerospace and Kymeta. This group made two things clear: they would prefer flat panel antennas to be referred to as ESAs (Electronically Steered Antenna), and that the planned massive increases in satellite capacity through projects like SES mPower and OneWeb will provide plenty of market for their businesses.
In addition, they expect that competitors to these projects will find themselves in a “Go Big or Go Home” situation spurring greater increases in capacity and therefore demand for their products.