By Caleb Henry
PARIS — Satellite manufacturers globally have struggled to keep their factories full amid a prolonged lull in geostationary communications satellite orders.
That hasn’t stopped Argentina and Turkey from standing up a new company that aims to build the same class of satellites.
Gsatcom Space Technologies, a joint venture of Argentina’s state-run technology company INVAP and Turkey’s partly state-owned Turkish Aerospace Industries, formed last year with the goal of building and selling small GEO satellites at home and abroad.
Luis Genovese, Gsatcom’s chief executive, says the company isn’t blind to the fact that it’s jumping into a market few would describe as ripe with opportunity. But Argentina and Turkey both want a sovereign capability to build their own satellites, he said, meaning market forces aren’t the end-all-be-all of the company.
“We believe it is strategic for our countries,” Genovese said in an interview at World Satellite Business Week Sept. 12. “This is one of the most important reasons. It is not only a commercial operation, doing business, but developing capabilities that will allow us to really support our countries for development in a more autonomous way.”
INVAP built the Arsat-1 and -2 telecom satellites for Argentinian operator Arsat, as well as the Saocom-1A and yet-to-launch Satcom-1B synthetic aperture radar satellites for the Argentine space agency CONAE.
Turkish Aerospace Industries built most of the Turkish government’s optical imaging satellite Gokturk-2, helped build Gokturk-1 with Thales Alenia Space, and is building Turksat’s Turksat-6A, Turkey’s first domestically produced geostationary telecom satellite.
Genovese said INVAP has assembly, integration and test facilities in Bariloche, Argentina, while TAI’s are located in Ankara, Turkey.
Gsatcom is focusing mainly on high-throughput satellites that would weigh 500 to 2,000 kilograms with 1.5 to 7.5 kilowatts of onboard power. The company has letters of intent from customers, but no firm contracts yet, he said.
Genovese said Gsatcom can complete a first satellite in three years, and will seek to complete subsequent satellites in 20 to 24 months. Like other manufacturers, Gsatcom will offer “flexible” satellites that can change beam characteristics like location, shape and power, he said.
Gsatcom can apply phased array technology from INVAP’s experience with the Saocom radar satellites to create flexible communications satellites, Genovese said. The company has some interest in meteorological satellites, too, but will stay mainly focused on communications, he said.
Argentine and Turkish institutions are anticipated customers given the political impetus that culminated in Gsatcom’s formation, he said. Genovese would not say how much of Gsatcom’s business he expects to come from commercial customers.
All of the world’s top manufacturers rely to some extent on their home government for satellite orders, but that doesn’t ensure their success. Israel Aerospace Industries teetered on the edge of closing its communications satellite business last year before the Israeli government stipulated that Amos-8, a commercial satellite Israeli operator Spacecom had awarded to Maxar Technologies in California, would instead be built domestically.
Gsatcom wants to build roughly two satellites a year, Genovese said. The company will strive to win customers by making sure it is adaptable to customer demands and keep costs low by developing important systems like avionics and digital processors internally, he said.
Genovese said Gsatcom will also benefit from individual partner strengths — TAI in structures and scaled production of helicopters and drones, and INVAP in developing new technologies. He declined to say how much each company invested to form Gsatcom, which is co-owned equally by both stakeholders.