Kypros, SSTL Join Forces on Smallsat Turnkey Venture

Space News | September 26, 2014 (Paris)

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A Cypriot company that has access to some two dozen orbital slots filed through its government but has been unable to sell most of them has teamed with small-satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Britain to offer turnkey systems to small nations entering the market.

Kypros Satellites of Limassol, Cyprus, said its change of strategy — from selling orbital slots to selling the slots packaged with a launcher, a satellite and insurance — borrows a page from the commercial shipping industry’s approach to commercial vessels.

In an interview here during the World Satellite Business Week Sept. 8-12 organized by Euroconsult, Kypros and SSTL officials said they would be offering the in-orbit delivery of an SSTL-built satellite with as much as 4.5 kilowatts of power and carrying as many as 45 transponders.

They said they expect the focus of the venture to be satellites with 3.2 kilowatts of power and weighing 2,500-2,700 kilograms at launch. They are offering packages of the satellite, launch and in-orbit insurance for $120 million.

The spacecraft design is SSTL’s Geostationary Minisatellite Platform (GMP), which has been under development for several years and is part of both U.K. Space Agency and European Space Agency technology development programs.

Maurizio Vanotti, head of telecommunications at Guildford, England-based SSTL, said the GMP platform is now being qualified under ESA’s Artest 3-4 telecommunications research program.

The platform is based on SSTL’s Giove-A satellite, launched for ESA into medium Earth orbit, not geostationary orbit, in 2005 to maintain the agency’s access to broadcast frequencies for the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing constellation.

SSTL has said a GMP platform could be produced within 36 months of an order.

Angelos Pieri, executive director of Kypros, said the business model with SSTL presumes two satellites are launched together to maximize savings and offer the $120 million in-orbit delivery cost.

Pieri said the tie-up with SSTL, which was formalized Sept. 5 in Cyprus in a ceremony attended by Cyprus Communications and Works Minister Marios Demetriades, should make it easier for nations and companies new to satellite operators to get into the business.

Pieri founded Kypros in 2006 with the purpose of monetizing the orbital assets registered though the Cypriot government with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations body that regulates orbital slots and wireless broadcast spectrum.

Kypros posted a first success in selling several slots to NewSat of Australia, a startup operator whose first satellite is now under construction with financing provided by the U.S. Export-Import Bank. NewSat has said it has secured a total of eight slots from Kypros.

Pieri said Kypros’ one-stop-shop approach should allow startup operators to pool their demand and realize the savings that come from doubling up on launches and ordering the small SSTL platform. SSTL has a long history of providing small satellites for Earth observation, technology demonstration and other missions, but it has never launched into geostationary orbit, the destination of most telecommunications satellites.

Once an administration, in this case Cyprus, gives notice that it will be using a given orbital slot and frequency assignment, it must place a satellite in that slot and broadcast in the reserved frequencies within seven to nine years, depending on individual circumstances that the ITU may take into account.

Of the 26 slots Kypros said it has at its disposal, five were registered in 2008, one in 2009, two in 2010, 16 in 2011 and two in 2013, most in C- and Ku-band, with many also including Ka-band allocations.

Pieri said many nations want more than just bandwidth, which they can lease from existing satellite operators. These nations, he said, want to control the satellite they operate, and save on foreign currency payments they would need to make each year for the leased capacity.

“Governments want their own satellites,” Pieri said.

C-band communications are being represented by wireless manufacturers from developed countries to be of declining importance, but that is clearly not true in Africa, most of Asia, Latin America and other regions where conditions are fundamentally different than in South Korea, Japan and Sweden, the report claims.

The study found that Nigeria, DRC and Angola have recently recorded increasing investment that has contributed to a boosting of their economies with a key segment being banking. C-band satellite connectivity facilitates the opening of new branches. This in turn favors banking inclusion by giving access to banking services for millions of existing and new customers. The use of C-band capacity for video distribution and contribution links will also be very important for the rollout of digital terrestrial television, which will accelerate in the next few years in most of Africa.