Vaissiere says ESA has spent €287 million to co-finance development of the nearly €600-million Alphabus. Another €199 million is invested in Alphasat, including the main payload and four technology demonstration payloads it will fly.
“Alphasat will be the start maybe of the commercial life of Alphabus,” Vaissiere says. “We know the demand is there. And we will treat Alphabus the way we treat all European platforms with support for some improvements.”
ESA is also developing the SmallGEO spacecraft bus with OHB of Germany. The first SmallGeo satellite, Hispasat AG1, will be owned and operated by fleet operator Hispasat of Spain, with launch scheduled for late 2014. ESA is also co-financing the European Data Relay System (EDRS) through a 15-year, public-private partnership with Astrium Services in which ESA has invested €275 million, with Astrium paying the balance of roughly €100 million. The first EDRS payload is expected to launch in 2014 aboard a commercial telecommunications satellite owned by Paris-based fleet operator Eutelsat. A second EDRS payload will be mounted on a dedicated EDRS satellite, Hylas-3, to be launched in 2015 by Avanti.
Vaissiere says ESA's next public-private venture will involve the development of Europe's first all-electric propulsion spacecraft, Electra, led by Luxembourg-based fleet operator SES and based on OHB's SmallGEO platform in the 3,000-kg weight class.
Slated to fly in 2017, Electra will use lightweight, electrically powered thrusters rather than conventional chemical propulsion to maneuver into a final position in geostationary orbit. Unlike chemically propelled satellites, all-electric spacecraft can take several months to reach their intended orbit post launch, but the technology potentially cuts in half a satellite's weight, and subsequently its launch costs, which can top €100 million, depending on the size of the spacecraft.
ESA is investing €97 million in Electra, including €58 million from Germany and another €17 million from Luxembourg. Slated to fly in 2017, Vaissiere says the project is an evolution of past public-private partnerships and is aimed at defining a generic legal framework so operators can initiate partnerships to develop innovative projects with an industrial team.
“This was not the case for Alphabus, where ESA and CNES initiated development of a new platform and then looked for a first flight opportunity,” Vaissiere says. “Electra is the first instance where in this case SES has come to us with OHB to propose that we introduce a full-electric propulsion system in orbit.”
Vaissiere says SES will play a larger role than operators in the past in terms of steering the design of the spacecraft.
“Later on, when we move into the development phase, we will see what kind of role each of the companies involved will play,” she says, adding that the propulsion subsystems are to be competed among European suppliers. “But it shows that they are paying a lot of attention to this critical technology, which is electric propulsion.”