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March 15, 2012

Satellite 2012: Launch Providers Critiqued by Operators

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Washington DC - During the “Big Four” satellite operators panel at Satellite 2012, the CEOS of Intelsat, Eutelsat (News - Alert), SES, and Telesat offered their opinions on the current state of the launch industry.  All of them love competition and don't like high prices – and welcome SpaceX (News - Alert) to the club.

“What is very important for us is to have enough competition between the suppliers of launch vehicles,” Eutelsat CEO Michel de Rosen said in response to a moderator's question inquiring about launch costs. “Our industry suffered from the fact that Delta and Atlas were making so much money from the Federal government, the U.S. government that they didn't need to be competitive.”

At the end of last year, Eutelsat launched one satellite using Sea Launch – just emerged from bankruptcy – and another one on a Chinese Long March rocket, with other satellites put into orbit on ArianeSpace launches.   De Rosen said the company wasn't “married” to a particular launch provider due to nationality, with independence in selecting a provider coming from enough alternatives to provide price competition.

“We can work with the traditional guys, we need to get a better offer,” Telesat (News - Alert) CEO Daniel Goldberg said. “Otherwise why would you do it? I would say for launch providers that are wanting to come into this market, they need to present a better value proposition and to date, when we've looked at those other's never made sense...I would say to those guys, sharpen your pencils and make it worth our while.”

Intelsat (News - Alert) CEO David McGlade said the three key criteria operators considers when selecting a launch provider are cost, launch schedule – making sure a provider can hit the launch date promised, and quality/reliability of the vehicle.

“Getting those three things right are the key,” McGlade stated. “Delta and Atlas have all the quality, but fall short on cost and availability of [launch] slots.”

McGlade suggested traditional launch providers needed look at their processes and changing the way manufacturing is done to drive costs down, such as manufacturing more in-house than relying on subcontractors.

SpaceX was held up as an example of a new way of building rockets and providing launch services.

“We welcome SpaceX to the club of launchers,” McGlade said. Praise for the company was also offered by the other CEOs during the course of their remarks, with SES (News - Alert) CEO Romain Bausch pointing out his firm would be launching a satellite on a Falcon 9 in 2013.

Sea Launch also got a shout-out from the CEOs, with Intelsat and Eutelsat exchanging thank-yous for supporting the company as it emerged from bankruptcy proceedings and got back into the business of launching satellites.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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