During the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington, DC, some of the most influential top executives from all over the world convened to discuss industry developments and dynamics and opportunities for growth and expansion. The launch services provider’s panel, held on Tuesday, March 13, entitled, “Launch Services: How Will the Competitive Landscape Change?”, took a bold look at how launch service providers, including new entrants, re-entrants and veteran launchers, are meeting customer demands and winning new business.
Participants included Frank McKenna, President of International Launch Services (ILS), Kjell Karlsen, President of Sea Launch, AG, Jean Yves Le Gall, Chairman and CEO, Arianespace, Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, Gao Ruofei, Executive Vice President, China Great Wall Industry Corporation and Cliff Perkins, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services. The following is a summary of ILS’ participation in the panel discussion, moderated by Jeffrey Hill, Editor of Via Satellite.
Adapting to Change and Meeting Customer Demands
McKenna said that ILS has primarily focused on serving the heavy-lift market for the last five years and within that same timeframe, Khrunichev has doubled the production rate and increased performance of the launch vehicle. Proton’s lift capability has increased over 1200kg with the phased series of improvements that have been 100 percent successful.
With the use of the Second Spacecraft Processing Facility at the launch site in Baikonur, we have been able to facilitate customers’ demand with overlapping missions, reducing launch centers to 15 days; a capability that is unmatched in the industry. This new capability allowed ILS to process and launch six missions in less than three months in 2011. We launched the SES-4 satellite last month for SES, the first mission of the year, after a delay due to a technical anomaly with the avionics system, discovered in pre-launch checks. This was the 20th SES satellite launched on ILS Proton and the 70th Proton launch overall.
ILS and Khrunichev launch 13-15 satellites per year and have a sustained backlog of over 20 missions for nearly five years now to maintain steady production and launch throughput. In less than two weeks, ILS Proton will loft the Intelsat 22 satellite for Intelsat with a UHF payload to serve the Australian Defence Force, followed by the Yahsat 1B satellite for Yahsat with a dual use payload for the United Arab Emirates Air Force. Yahsat 1B will also facilitate the YahClick program, YahSat’s breakthrough satellite broadband service for users in the Middle East, Africa and South West Asia. With up to 8 additional commercial missions and 3-4 Federal missions planned for this year, ILS looks forward to a robust launch year and is proud to partner with our global customers to serve their changing needs and requirements with a launch on ILS Proton.
What Is the Most Important Factor in Selecting a Launch Services Provider?
Is it performance, reliability, price, schedule or proven technology? This was one of the questions posed to the audience using the Audience Response System during the panel, and it prompted some lively debate. McKenna disagreed with the idea of choosing just one of those elements, saying that it is “a balance of quality, schedule assurance and price, not just a pick one”. When selecting a commercial launch provider, one must balance the entire equation he said, which is why ILS subscribes to “all of the above” with respect to creating a total value solution for each of our customers with an ILS Proton launch.
Competing in a Highly Competitive Market
While heavy lift is ILS Proton’s primary market, ILS introduced the Proton Duo offering to add competition in the low to medium satellite market. This offering provides additional flexibility to customers to lower the cost per transponder to orbit. Launching multiple satellites to orbit is not new to the heritage Proton vehicle as missions have been conducted for the Iridium, Express, Glonass, Cosmos and Ruduga programs over the years. In 2011, ILS Proton conducted its first commercial shared launch, orbiting SES-3 to Geostationary Transfer Orbit paired with Kazsat 2, a small spacecraft for the Government of Kazakhstan launched directly to Geosychronous Orbit.
Responding and Recovering in a Challenging Year
In 2011, ILS was faced with the “perfect storm” of operational challenges – satellite delays, in-orbit spacecraft anomalies and a launch anomaly. The year was characterized by constant rescheduling of the manifest and close communication between the ILS/ Khrunichev team, satellite manufacturers and our customers to launch each of our missions at the earliest opportunity. The high level of production in the Khrunichev factories and hard work of the launch teams allowed us to react and respond to We finished off the year with six launches in 80 days and were poised to launch a seventh mission within 100 days until an anomaly occurred at the launch site. Our customers understand that when these things happen, you need to step back and make sure that the issue is properly handled and the highest level of quality is maintained. That mission, SES 4, was successfully launched in February to kick off the 2012 Proton launch year.