Fri. Sep 29th, 2023
Telesat Secures Funding for Low Earth Orbit Broadband Network

Telesat has successfully secured the funds necessary to establish a low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband network by partnering with MDA. The decision to switch to smaller but equally capable satellites from MDA was made after encountering production issues with Thales Alenia Space. MDA will deliver 198 satellites starting from mid-2026, delaying Telesat’s expansion plans by six years.

The new satellites, weighing around 750 kilograms each, are 75% smaller than the original design. With $3.5 billion in equity and financing from the Canadian federal and provincial governments, Telesat has the resources to launch 156 satellites, allowing for initial polar and global services. The cost-effective satellite design is enabled by the use of digital beam-forming array antennas, which were initially considered immature for the constellation.

While OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink continue to densify their operational LEO networks, and Amazon prepares to deploy Project Kuiper around the same time as Telesat’s Lightspeed, Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg emphasizes the company’s focus on execution in order to get their LEO plans back on track. Telesat is currently finalizing contracts with other vendors, including launch providers and ground segment providers.

The first launch for Lightspeed will involve full-scale satellites, although there may be initial in-orbit testing before populating the constellation on an active launch cadence. Mass production is expected to commence in the middle of the second half of 2025.

Telesat has secured launch agreements with Blue Origin and Relativity Space, and recently announced a contract with SpaceX for 14 Falcon 9 launches. Goldberg believes that Blue Origin, with its advanced facilities and capable team, will be well-prepared to support Telesat’s mid-2026 launch schedule.

Although Thales Alenia Space was involved in the early stages of the project, MDA’s work will not leverage any of Thales’ previous progress. However, Telesat may be able to use some of the software development and operational-related software completed by Thales.

Closing the financing for the constellation on the Thales path proved difficult due to the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains and costs. Additionally, Thales informed Telesat less than two years ago that they would no longer be able to support the originally planned schedule and program cost. After exploring alternatives, Telesat found a cost-effective solution with MDA.

Overall, Telesat is now focused on execution and has begun hiring across the company in order to deliver on its LEO constellation plans.