Vaissiere says Electra is largley a response to Boeing's announcement last year of an estimated $400-million deal with Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) and Satellites Mexicanos to build the first all-electric commercial telecom spacecraft intended for launch to geostationary orbit.
In addition, China is increasingly competitive in the telecom market, with plans to introduce two new variants of its DFH-4 satellite bus starting this year, both featuring lithium-ion batteries and the option of ion-electric propulsion.
Beijing already offers one-stop shopping through China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC), based on turnkey satellite services for customers with little experience operating satellite systems. Introduced in 2006, the DFH-4 initially suffered from unreliability, though CGWIC says seven spacecraft based on the platform are now operating in orbit. In addition to the space segment, CGWIC offers customers launches atop China's Long March family of rockets, insurance, ground control stations and training, as well as financing through Chinese banks.
The company also is expanding its services to include system planning and frequency coordination. More long term is the larger, next-generation DFH-5.
“As an all-electric spacecraft, the DFH-5 will be the evolvement of DFH-4,” says Wang Hui, director of the communications satellite division at CGWIC. “The DFH-5 platform will be 6.5-7 tons, and will be launched by the Long March-5 series of launch vehicles; but the launch time is not settled yet.”
ESA is also investing €259 million to develop next-generation satellite platforms under a project known as NeoSat, to replace the Astrium Eurostar and Thales Alenia Space Spacebus platforms in the 3,000-6,000-kg weight class. NeoSat will also develop, qualify and validate underlying platform subsystems, functional chains, equipment and technology. Slated for a first flight in 2018, the project seeks to achieve a 30% reduction in cost for the companies by providing technologies necessary to capture at least 50% of the satellite communications market.
NeoSat is in the design phase, “where we have to reflect on the major tradeoffs,” Vaissiere says. “We have to look at all of the evolutions from the rest of the world, and at the different possible industrial structures.”
Patrick Wood, Astrium's chief technology officer for satellites, says the company's Eurostar 3000 bus has proved to be “a fantastic modular design,” one which the company is now using to build geostationary spacecraft in excess of 6,500 kg.
“The mass is driven by the fact that we're miniaturizing the payloads while customers are pushing us to increase payload capacity,” Wood says. “Because the packing density of the payload can be higher, the surface area on which it is mounted is larger, and so we're building these huge Eurostar 3000 spacecraft.”