It is a command that falls perfectly. European satellite operator Eutelsat gave Thales Alenia Space a breath of fresh air Tuesday, October 29th, the French-Italian group, a 5.3-tonne telecommunications satellite dubbed Eutelsat 10B. This electric propulsion machine will be for connectivity on board aircraft and boats, a segment in full explosion. If its orbital position (10 ° East) allows coverage from the Americas to Asia, the satellite is primarily calibrated to serve the European market and the Middle East. “Eutelsat 10B will bring a huge connection capability in planes in Europe, which will allow passengers to watch streaming movies,” says Challenges Rodolphe Belmer, Managing Director of Eutelsat. The European market has so far lagged the US market, but it is exploding. “Gogo Air, one of the world's leading connectivity in flight, has also announced that it will buy some of the bandwidth of the Eutelsat 10B satellite, as soon as it enters into service in 2023.
The contract Eutelsat, the amount of which is not communicated but estimated between 200 and 300 million euros, is a huge relief for Thales Alenia Space (TAS). The space division of Thales, co-owned by the Italian Leonardo, has been hit hard by the sluggish telecom satellite market for four years. Thales anticipates a 10% fall in TAS sales in 2019 (2.45 billion euros in 2018), then a further, smaller drop in 2020. Due to lack of contracts, the division even had to launch this year a plan of 500 job cuts, or 6% of its workforce (8,000 employees), which particularly affects the French sites of Cannes and Toulouse. For lack of new contracts, 150 to 300 new deletions of additional posts were envisaged, according to the tribune.
Transform the test
The Eutelsat order is therefore timely. First, it shows that TAS is still competitive against Airbus Defense & Space, Boeing, and other Maxar. “Thales Alenia Space has won the competition on both the technological aspect, and their ability to quickly deliver the satellite to orbit in 2022,” said Rodolphe Belmer. Then, the contract concerns a very powerful satellite (35 gigabits per second, against 1.8 for Eutelsat 172B, launched in June 2017) and very heavy (5.3 tons), hence a high price and many hours of operation. work for TAS factories. “Eutelsat 10B brings us a valuable workload, confirms Pascal Homsy, vice president of the telecommunications activities of Thales Alenia Space. With two or three more short-term contracts, you will begin to breathe well. ” TAS has so far won two contracts in 2019: Eutelsat 10B and the Satria satellite for Indonesia. But it takes between three and five contracts a year to run the full sites of the group.
TAS must now transform the trial by quickly winning other contracts. According to our information, the group is in the final on three competitions that could be completed by the end of the year, with the Luxembourgish SES, the Spanish Hispasat (Amazonas) and the Egyptian Nilesat. On the SES competition, the Franco-Italian group is offering its new range of 100% digital Space Inspire satellites, unveiled last September at the World Satellite Business Week in Paris. These satellites, smaller than the machine sold to Eutelsat (2 tons against 5.3 tons), are designed to be able to change mission in orbit (TV broadcast, connectivity) and be available in 18 months, twice as fast than conventional telecom satellites.
The Telesat dream
To definitely get back on track, Thales Alenia Space is also aiming for a big contract with Canadian operator Telesat. The latter wants to launch by 2022 a constellation of 300 satellites in low orbit dedicated to Internet connectivity, which will compete with the projects of OneWeb, SpaceX (Starlink) or Amazon (Kuiper). After having teamed up for a long time with American Maxar, TAS now competes for the $ 3 billion contract against Airbus Defense & Space. Thales Alenia Space hopes that its vast experience in the design of constellations (Iridium, O3B, Globalstar) will allow it to make the difference. Telesat's final decision, long announced at the end of 2019, could slip in early 2020.