Canadian broadband communications company Telesat tapped SpaceX to launch its “Lightspeed” satellite constellation. The first satellites will launch in 2026 and the full constellation will be in orbit by late 2027 if everything goes as planned.
According to Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg, the company chose SpaceX for “the best combination of price, performance, reliability and schedule tempo.”
SpaceX also previously launched a Telesat satellite in 2018, as seen in the below video. Referred to as Telstar 19V, this satellite maneuvered its way to a geostationary orbit after launch.
The contract includes 14 launches, which can contain as many of 18 satellites apiece. No dollar value was given for the launch contract. Telesat has 198 Lightspeed satellites planned but could expand the constellation to fill up the “extra” launches.
Telesat recently moved the contract to build the 198 planned satellites from Thales Alenia Space to MDA Ltd. Goldberg cited variables that included COVID-19, supply chain issues, and inflation as reasons for the move. The need to move this contract became one reason for delaying the launches by as much as three years.
Lightspeed will provide broadband Internet service from low Earth orbit (LEO). LEO allows signals to travel faster from endpoint to endpoint by reducing the distance they need to travel compared to geostationary orbits.
Satellites in LEO typically orbit at an altitude of only a few hundred miles. This reduces the distance that a signal relayed by the satellites would have to travel compared to geostationary orbit, which is typically 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles) above Earth’s equator.
SpaceX’s Starlink also uses LEO to reduce latency, or the amount of response time for signals — a sticking point for some competitors like ViaSat, which has Internet satellites in geostationary orbit.
Unlike Starlink, Telesat’s Lightspeed will exclusively focus on serving governments and enterprise-level customers like shipping companies and aircraft that rely on mobility. Starlink does have licenses to provide service for maritime operations and large vehicles. However, most of its customers are individuals in regions that have very few options for reliable high-speed Internet.
Satellite launches like the new Lightspeed contract accounts for a considerable amount of the demand for launches from U.S. soil. SpaceX still frequently launches new Starlink satellites and has several contracts to launch government- and privately-owned satellies. It is on track to set a new company record for number of launches in a year with 64 launches so far in 2023.
For Elon Musk’s occasional needling of competitors, SpaceX does not seem to mind launching satellites for competitors in the satellite Internet sector. It has launched satellites for ViaSat and OneWeb in what could be seen as a “no hard feelings” move on SpaceX’s part. However, Jeff Bezos allegedly snubbed SpaceX when selecting launch providers for Project Kuiper, which led to an ongoing investor lawsuit. Apparently, shareholders don’t think it’s cool to for Bezos to put his feud with Elon Musk above sound business practices.
SpaceX became known for its reliability in launching satellites, including its “Transporter” series of rideshare launches, in an environment in which satellite launches make up the vast majority of launches from U.S. soil. It became one reason Telesat selected it to launch the Lightspeed constellation.