Date Visited: September 10, 1997
WTEC: C. Bostian (report author), W. Brandon, N. Helm, C. Mahle
Daimler-Benz Aerospace is a well-known manufacturer of spacecraft components. The company has recently instituted a management change and is now focusing on commercial projects and the bottom line. It will concentrate on the larger corporate interest in transportation, and it is not yet clear to what extent this will include space and defense. The company intends to seek corporate partners in areas where appropriate, and talks were in progress at the time of this WTEC visit with Matra Marconi Space about a possible merger or joint venture.
Daimler-Benz Aerospace's satellite business has an annual turnover of approximately DM 818 million. The total turnover for space activities is approximately DM 2 billion. "Free" R&D totals approximately DM 20.2 million. This figure does not include R&D efforts that are directly supported by the German government and ESA. Sixty percent of the company's total turnover represents development activity.
The company's satellite products include solar power systems, propulsion systems, attitude control systems, antennas, and spacecraft software.
Development of a European satellite navigation system is one of the company's priorities. It is lobbying Bonn and Brussels to make this happen. It feels that this is important because the GPS space segment is U.S. manufactured and controlled, and all of the ground equipment is made and sold by U.S. and Japanese companies. A European system would not require global coverage. Ideas under consideration include 24 hour circular orbits with different inclinations. With proper phasing, ground stations could see one satellite north of the equator, one satellite on the equator, and one satellite south of the equator. This would provide high accuracy and help eliminate the problems experienced with GPS shadowing by buildings in European cities.
Daimler-Benz is working on an integrated system in which a single computer will do attitude control and data handling.
The company has major experience in manufacturing solar arrays and associated equipment. Its TEMPO solar generator will offer 12 kW at beginning of life and 10 kW at end of life. All solar cells will be GaAs. GaAs is expensive and difficult to handle because the material is brittle and heavy.
Daimler-Benz engineers feel that the challenge is in finding an affordable way of making antennas with adaptable multiple beams. While companies like Teledesic envision arrays with 1,000 scannable beams, Daimler-Benz does not view this approach as commercially feasible. It is working on a system with 10-15 feeds and 10-15 beams. The system works on a demonstration basis and needs customers.
Optical or optically controlled beam forming networks would be cost effective only for antennas that generate many (500) small beams. It will take a significant investment of money to get optical feeds going.
A number of European companies are looking at Ka-band systems3/4Alacatel, Matra Marconi Space, Alenia Spazio3/4and Daimler-Benz is working with them all. The issues involve who are the real customers and how do we approach them? Ka-band will not be a big business at this time. The bottlenecks will be in market access.
Our host felt that "moderate" direct-to-home (DTH) service should be offered first to test the market. "If you can't be sure a satellite system will be used 50-60% from day one, you will have great difficulty funding it." You need end-to-end service in order to be able to sell to the consumer. The costs of access to the terrestrial network may be very high. A satellite owner may get only 30 cents a minute for air time while the user has to pay $3.00 per minute to cover terrestrial access costs. There will not be much business in user terminals talking to each other directly by satellite. Customers will have to be able to connect to the terrestrial network.
According to our host, the market will not support services like satellite-based rural telephony. One reason that there are a lot of people in rural areas who have never seen a telephone is that they lack the money to pay for one.
Daimler-Benz may have focused too much on physics and not enough on customer needs. Its current technology offers thrusters at the 10-25 mN level. This will do for north-south station keeping. The Russians have developed 100-300 mN thrusters, although their performance is rumored to be unstable3/4the direction of the thrust is apparently erratic or unpredictable. But if these can be improved, then 5 to 10 of them could be bundled to provide a replacement for liquid thrusters. That would appear to save a significant amount of spacecraft mass by eliminating the need for fuel, but it would be accompanied by the need for a major increase in prime power. Ten to 15 kW would be required to operate the thrusters. Daimler-Benz is attempting to interest the U.S. prime contractors in cooperating in ion thruster development.
Daimler-Benz has done quite a bit of work in optical ISL technology and has developed a 600 Mbps terminal. The company terminated the effort for marketing reasons. While such a terminal might be useful for a second generation Iridium system, the market "is not so overwhelming." In contrast with Globalstar, Iridium has no significant European suppliers.
Our host anticipates some major shifts in spectrum allocation and use. Daimler-Benz is working on direct audio broadcasting in S-band or L-band or perhaps in spectrum now allocated to TV. Some of the large amount of spectrum reserved for the military may be released for commercial applications.
European companies need more access to U.S. markets and more openness on the part of U.S. companies. It is not sufficient to place an order and receive a black box and an operating manual. Pressures are pushing us toward cooperation.
The WTEC team's discussions with Daimler-Benz about trends in technology and about evolving market conditions were very useful and informative.