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Friday, 04 June 2010 18:13

Iridium unveils plans for second generation of leosats

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Iridium Communications, operator of a network of 77 low earth orbit satellites that provide global mobile voice and data communications, has awarded Thales Alenia Space a $US1.8b contract for its second generation of satellites.

Iridium's announcement intensifies competition with rival Leosats operator, Globalstar, which last month announced plans to launch the first of its second generation satellites, claiming it would gain a five year lead over Iridium. And geostationary satellite operator, Inmarsat is due to intorduce its first handheld satellite phone later this month.

Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Finmeccanica (33%) it has been awarded a fixed price contract for the design and construction of satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation. It is also building Globalstar's new satellites (one hopes it has very strong Chinese walls!)

Ninety five percent of the $US1.8b credit funding for Iridium's new satellites has been guaranteed by the French export credit agency Coface and is being syndicated through French and other major international banks and financial institutions. The guarantee commitment is not conditional on Iridium raising any further debt or equity financing.

The contract covers construction of the originally planned 72 operational satellites and in-orbit spares, plus an additional nine ground spares. Total cost of Iridium NEXT, including all costs associated with development, manufacture and launch of the constellation, is now anticipated to be approximately $US2.9b.

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"Our announcement today exceeds our earlier expectations in every way," said Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium. "We are very pleased with the completion of our comprehensive vendor selection process. We have a great partner in Thales Alenia Space, a world leader in satellite systems, who has developed a sophisticated satellite constellation that will allow us to seamlessly transition to an even more powerful network in the future.

"In addition, the Coface guarantee enables Iridium to secure attractive and flexible low cost financing for the project. Based on the amount of this guarantee, we expect Iridium NEXT to be fully funded when the financing is finalised this summer. This is a critical step in maintaining our customers' and partners' confidence that Iridium will keep delivering innovative products and services globally through the coming decades."

Desch said: "We operate the world's only communications system that truly works everywhere in the world, with more than 359,000 subscribers. (Geostationary satellites, which are in equatorial orbit cannot provide coverage in the polar regions, nor does rival LEO system, Globalstar).

Desch added: "By entering into the ATP to immediately begin building a complete next-generation satellite system, and by securing export credit agency support of an amount sufficient to enable us to fully fund the project, we have completed critical steps in laying a strong foundation for Iridium's future. Going forward we can focus all our energies on continuing to add new subscribers and working with our partners to deliver new products to serve our diverse subscriber base."

Meanwhile Globalstar, which has had major problems with many of its current satellites, and struggled for several years to raise the funds for its second generation, is due to launch the first of these later this year.

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It said last month, ahead of Iridium's announcement that "deployment of the constellation is expected to afford [Globalstar] up to a five-year competitive advantage over its primary mobile satellite services competitor [Iridium], which still has not yet named a manufacturer for its second-generation satellites."

Globalstar said: "The launch of the new satellites is expected in the September or early October timeframe with the actual launch date to be announced in the upcoming months'¦The 24 new second-generation satellites will be integrated with the eight first-generation satellites that were launched in 2007.

"Once the constellation is fully deployed, the new constellation and next-generation ground network are designed to provide Globalstar customers with increased data speeds of up to 256kbps in a flexible Internet protocol multimedia subsystem (IMS) configuration. Products and services supported are expected to include: push-to-talk and multicasting, advanced messaging capabilities such as multimedia messaging or MMS, mobile video, geo-location services, multi-band and multi-mode handsets, and data devices with GPS integration."

However Globalstar has not said when the remaining 18 satellites will be launched, or when the initial six will come into service.

 

 

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