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Space News: Three Satellites in Pipeline For Russian Fleet Operator

Russia’s largest satellite-fleet operator on March 16 said it had completed its financing of three telecommunications satellites and confirmed contracts for their construction with Russian and French satellite builders.

WASHINGTON — Russia’s largest satellite-fleet operator on March 16 said it had completed its financing of three telecommunications satellites and confirmed contracts for their construction with Russian and French satellite builders.

Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) had announced the construction of the Express AM8, Express AT1 and Express AT2 satellites in late 2010, saying that ISS Reshetnev of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, would be prime contractor and build the satellite platforms. Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy was selected as provider of the three satellites’ electronics payloads.

Addressing the Satellite 2011 conference in Washington March 16, RSCC Chief Financial Officer Dennis Pivnyuk said the company recently assembled the financing for the spacecraft and has notified ISS Reshetnev and Thales Alenia Space to begin full-scale construction.

Thales Alenia Space Chief Executive Reynald Seznec told reporters March 16 that his company had begun work on the satellites following receipt of payment from RSCC.

“These initial payments mean the clock starts ticking today,” Pivnyuk said of construction on the three satellites. “With this added capacity we will extend the cover of our fleet.”

The RSCC order is part of a major expansion program under way by RSCC and Russia’s second-largest satellite fleet operator, Gazprom Space Systems of Moscow.

Pivnyuk said RSCC, which currently operates 11 satellites in geostationary orbit, is midway through a fleet-replenishment and expansion program valued at more than $1 billion that includes nine satellites to be launched before 2015. Two of these nine have been launched.

The new spacecraft will more than double RSCC’s in-orbit capacity as measured by the number of usable transponders.

The expansion has already begun to show up in RSCC’s revenue. Pivnyuk said the company increased its revenue by 14 percent in 2010, to 6.8 billion Russian rubles, or $222.7 million. RSCC said its revenue from corporate data and video networks, known as VSATs or very small aperture terminals, grew by 12 percent, to 136 million rubles, in 2010 and is expected to increase by 65 percent in 2010.

RSCC’s Express AM4 satellite, under construction by Astrium Satellites of Europe and scheduled for launch in August, carries 30 C-, 28 Ku-, one L- and two Ka-band transponders.

Operated at 80 degrees east, the satellite will permit initial trials of Russia’s government-sponsored broadband initiative to extend Internet access to remote communities using the Ka-band transponders.

Gazprom Space Systems, majority owned by Russia’s Gazprom energy giant, also is in the middle of an expansion plan that cannot come quickly enough, Gazprom Space Systems Director-General Dmitriy Sevastiyanov said March 16.

The company has two relatively small satellites in orbit, both of which are full. That means revenue growth has been limited. The company has three satellites on order. The Yamal 300K satellite, scheduled for launch late in 2011, is being built by ISS Reshetnev. The Yamal 401, to be launched in 2013, features an ISS Reshetnev platform and a Thales Alenia Space payload.

Yamal 402 is under contract to Thales Alenia Space and is scheduled for launch in late 2012. Yamal 401 and 402 are being backed by the French export-credit agency, Coface. All three satellites will be launched by Russian Proton rockets, with ISS Reshetnev handling the 300K launch as part of an in-orbit delivery contract with Gazprom Space Systems.

In an interview, Sevastiyanov said these three satellites alone will give Gazprom a sevenfold increase in the size of its fleet in terms of available transponders.

Sevastiyanov said Gazprom Space Systems for now is steering clear of Ka-band because there are too many unknowns about whether the Russian market is ready for Ka-band in terms of ground terminals and other equipment.

“We build our satellites under credit programs that are backed by Gazprom,” Sevastiyanov said of the company’s conservatism about Ka-band. “All the investments are scrutinized by our main shareholder. Still, we do have rights to 81.75 degrees east and will build for Ka-band in addition to Ku-band.”

Press