lightbulb electricity
March 14, 2012

Boeing Contracted To Build All-Electric Satellites

Aerospace and defense plane builder Boeing announced Tuesday that it won a contract to manufacture four “all-electric” satellites -- a technological breakthrough that the Seattle, Washington-based company said would help cut costs in the competitive satellite industry.

Boeing, investing a lot of time and money into its 702SP satellite over the past two years, said the new satellites will be a smaller version of that one. The contract will boost the company℠s commercial sector.

Boeing does not usually provide a sector by sector breakdown of its revenues, but Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, told Reuters in a telephone interview that the commercial sector of its business accounted for roughly 25 percent of its revenues in 2011, up 10 percent from previous years.

He said that commercial revenue would continue to account for 20 percent or more for some time, given the current budget cuts in the defense sector.

Boeing declined to give details on the amount of the value of the new contract or the amount it has invested in the satellites.

Cooning said Boeing is vying for some $1.5 billion in commercial orders, and was working with the Air Force to reduce costs of its government satellites and adopt more commercial-style contracts. He said that moving to fixed-price contracts on the Wideband Global Satellite system had cut upwards of $60 million off the cost of each of those satellites.

The new contract is a joint partnership of Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) and Satélites Mexicanos (Satmex). Each company will receive two of the new satellites, with the first ones set to be completed and shipped in late 2014 or early 2015.

Steve O´Neill, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, told a news conference that the satellites will be able to launch two at a time on all major launch vehicles, including the Falcon 9. The ability to launch two satellites at a time would literally shave 50 percent off the cost of launch, he added.

And use of all-electric propulsion would make the satellites lighter since they would not need to carry liquid rocket fuel. However, it would take about four to six months for all-electrics to get into orbit, said O℠Neill.

O´Neill told Reuters at the Satellite 2012 conference that Boeing was also looking for additional customers for the new satellites.

Joseph Rickers, president of Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, also speaking at the conference, said his company was also working on an electric propulsion satellite system for its government customers, but has yet to find a commercial market for them.

Jim Simpson, vice president of business development at Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems, told Reuters that the company was standardizing components to reduce its production costs, and hoped the technology in the satellite systems could flow over to other systems, including government spacecraft.


On the Net: