The head of satellite services provider Inmarsat says he would like to see additional established launch service providers in the market, and hopes that new and returning players such as (SpaceX) and Sea Launch will help foster more choice and competition. But he also says too many can become a crowd.
With Delta/Atlas manufacturer United Launch Alliance “essentially out of the market for commercial launches,” companies looking for geostationary launch providers with long track records of success essentially have a choice between Arianespace and International Launch Services (ILS), according to Rupert Pearce, CEO of London-based Inmarsat.
“Basically you've got a duopoly at the moment for commercial launches,” Pearce tells Aviation Week. Fewer than three major providers of launches for geostationary satellites is not enough, he contends. “I'd like to see four or more, ideally,” he says.
But there is hope in the form of Sea Launch, which is in the process of recovering from launch failures and financial woes, and SpaceX with its Falcon 9 rocket.
“Sea Launch is coming back,” Pearce says. “We know they experienced a lot of problems. They've got to develop the track record again.”
SpaceX, meanwhile, “is a really welcome addition, in terms of innovation,” Pearce says. “But again, when you're launching a very small number of six-ton satellites, you need to see consistency of effort, and not just the occasional successful launch.”
Inmarsat chose ILS over Arianespace to orbit the company's $1.3 billion Global Xpress constellation—three702-series satellites set to launch next year, offering high-speed Ka-band communications services to government and commercial customers. Meanwhile, the company's newest Alphasat spacecraft is slated to launch in the first half of 2013 on an Ariane 5.
Worldwide, commercial space launch revenue continues to climb, generally bringing the promise of more choices for deliveries to orbit (see chart).
Pearce also looks forward to innovation on the satellite bus and payload side. Boeing's all-electric 702SP satellite bus, for example, “suddenly seems to lower the cost of putting the space segment into orbit,” Pearce says. “The fact that [it's] Falcon-compatible is also very, very interesting.” And ifchooses to return to building commercial satellites, as it has indicated it might, “then you've got another major provider of satellites as well,” he says.
Meanwhile, governments are providing powerful incentives for their respective satellite and launch industries, according to Pearce. “You've got the export credit agencies out there flinging money with gay abandon, lowering the cost of capital to bring things to market and supporting their national manufacturing industry and launch industry, because they're funding launches ,” he says. “So you're beginning to see some of the barriers to innovation coming down.”