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Space News: RSCC Expansion Continues with Three-satellite Order

Thales Alenia Space will build payloads for three telecommunications satellites to be operated by Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) under contracts announced Sept. 22. Russia’s ISS Reshetnev will provide the satellite platforms, all of which will be Express 1000 models designed to operate for 15 years in geostationary orbit.

PARIS — Thales Alenia Space will build payloads for three telecommunications satellites to be operated by Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) under contracts announced Sept. 22.

Russia’s ISS Reshetnev will provide the satellite platforms, all of which will be Express 1000 models designed to operate for 15 years in geostationary orbit.

The three satellites are the Express-AM8, Express-AT1 and Express-AT2, all of which are part of what Moscow-based RSCC has described as a billion-dollar fleet replacement and expansion program. The program includes four satellites already under construction, plus the three announced Sept. 22. An additional satellite, Express-AM7, has yet to be ordered but is also expected as part of the expansion.

Financial terms of the Thales Alenia Space contracts were not announced. The Franco-Italian manufacturer, which has provided a dozen payloads for Russian telecommunications satellites since the mid-1990s, said it plans to further deepen its relationship with Russian industry.

Thales Alenia Space Chief Executive Reynald Seznec said in a Sept. 22 statement that the company’s goal, starting with these three satellites, is to “develop a new industrial partnership” with Russian industry with the agreement of the Russian government.

Russia’s satellite operators in recent years have shown themselves willing to work with Western suppliers, mainly European, to a greater extent than their counterparts in large, developing nations such as India and China.

Russia’s Gazprom Space Systems, RSCC’s principal Russian competitor, has ordered two large satellites from Thales Alenia Space, one of which includes major work by ISS Reshetnev. The other appears to be a pure Thales Alenia Space product. Both satellites, now under construction, have received loan-guarantee support from France’s export-credit agency, Coface.

In addition to purchasing many spacecraft with Thales Alenia Space payloads in the past decade, RSCC has ordered a large spacecraft from Astrium Satellites of Europe, which in turn has agreed to transfer technology to Russia.

The Express-AM8 satellite, to be launched in 2012 or 2013 into RSCC’s 14 degrees west orbital slot, will generate 5.9 kilowatts of end-of-life power to a payload consisting of 24 C-band, 16 Ku-band and two L-band transponders.

Express-AT1 will generate 5.6 kilowatts of power for its 32 Ku-band transponders and operate at 56 degrees east. Express-AT2, with 3 kilowatts of power for 16 Ku-band transponders, will be operated at 36 degrees east.

In addition to bidding for Russian domestic satellite work, Thales Alenia Space and ISS Reshetnev have teamed to win export business for the national satellite operators in Israel and Indonesia.

Thales Alenia Space is teaming with ISS Reshetnev to build the Yamal 401 and Yamal 402 telecommunications satellites for Gazprom Space Systems of Moscow. Thales Alenia Space will be building the whole of Yamal 402, using the company’s Spacebus 4000 C3 platform. The European manufacturer will be providing the payload for Yamal 401, which will be based on ISS Reshetnev’s Express 2000 platform.

The two Yamal satellites and their launches aboard International Launch Services Proton rockets are being financed by European and Russian banks. Societe Generale of France is providing a $202 million loan, which has been backed by guarantees from Coface. A group of European banks has agreed to provide Gazprom a separate $298 million line of credit for the project as well, according to Societe Generale.

Russia’s Gazprombank has opened two nine-year credit lines for the satellite operator, one valued at 1.755 billion Russian rubles ($56.6 million) and the other, denominated in U.S. dollars, valued at $94 million, according to Gazprombank.

RSCC Chief Financial Officer Dennis Pivnyuk said company revenue grew by 15 percent in 2009, to 5.97 billion rubles, and the portion of its business dedicated to television broadcasting is expected to increase in the next couple of years. Now at 25 percent, the broadcasting share of RSCC revenue should increase to 35 percent, Pivnyuk said here Sept. 8 during the World Satellite Finance Week conference organized by Euroconsult.

Subscription television is developing quickly in Russia and should reach 8.9 million households in the next year, up from 6.9 million currently, according to RSCC estimates. RSCC has also ordered a total of 26 Ka-band transponders for the Express-AM4, Express-AM5 and Express-AM6 satellites, to be launched in 2011 and 2012, on the assumption that a Russian government broadband stimulus program will be put into effect to extend broadband access to regions now beyond the reach of terrestrial networks.

RSCC’s EBITA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, is more than 75 percent of revenue. The company has increased the fill rate on its 11-satellite constellation to 75 percent from 70 percent a year ago and has already sold, to existing and new customers, about half the capacity available on the four satellites ordered before the Sept. 22 announcement, Pivnyuk said.

Press