Site: Space Systems/Loral
3825 Fabian Way
Palo Alto, CA 94303-4604
Date Visited: July 22, 1997
WTEC: A.U. Mac Rae (report author), W. Brandon, J. Evans (COMSAT), with JohnEvans (guest)
Space Systems Loral (SS/L) operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Loral Space Communications (LS/C). LS/C also has a 34.4% equity interest in Globalstar, L.P. LS/C acquired Skynet Satellite Services from AT&T in early 1997, which enables it to provide satellite services to U.S. customers with its four GEO satellites. A new activity, CYBERSTAR, a worldwide high-speed communications system, has been proposed. Initially, it will consist of three GEO Ka-band satellites, to provide interactive, broadband multimedia data transmission.
SS/L designs and manufactures telecommunications, weather and direct broadcast satellites. It is a world class manufacturer of satellites, with 25% of the total geosynchronous satellite market in 1997. It expected revenue of $1.7 billion in 1997. Its Palo Alto facility has technological capabilities to provide total spacecraft design as well as the manufacture, test and flight support of satellites. It planned to deliver 9 GEO satellites in 1997 and had a backlog of 24 satellites ($2.7 billion), with a work force of over 3,700 employees. The company has long-term strategic partnerships with numerous global suppliers of spacecraft parts and sub-systems. Considerable focus is directed to improving design and manufacturing processes to enable it to be a low cost, rapid turn-around provider of high quality satellites.
Loral has been a leader in the insertion of new technology into commercial spacecraft. Some recent examples include: contiguous multiplexers (INTESLAT V), digital processor attitude control (INSAT), an integrated bi-propellant system (INSAT), embedded heat pipes (Superbird), dielectric resonator filters (Arabsat), high performance nickel-hydrogen batteries (N-Star) and commercial phased array antennas (Globalstar).
In response to the increased competitiveness of the global spacecraft industry, Loral has significantly changed its business practices. It has aggressively evolved its technology to include high powered satellites in its portfolio. Key to these business practice changes are two projects:
R&D to develop low cost reusable products, with an objective of reducing mass and cost by 30%. In actuality, this project achieved a 40% reduction in mass and cost while improving reliability and delivery times.
Development of higher performance spacecraft, initiated in 1996. The Lafayette spacecraft will have up to 20 kW power capability, over 100 transponders, electric propulsion, multiple deployed and fixed antennas and will be ready for launch in early 2000.
The company has increased R&D spending to meet the objectives of these programs.
Loral does not try to manufacture all parts of the spacecraft. Believing that it can obtain the best technology by combining in-house technology development with a reliance on numerous worldwide specialty suppliers, Loral develops long-term relationships with these suppliers, enabling it to obtain the best parts available at competitive prices. A key factor in its ability to deliver quality satellites on schedule are the company's robust design, manufacture and test capabilities, combined with a focus on processes, people and their training, philosophy and facilities. Extensive use is made of CAD tools. MAP II (manufacturer's automation protocol) is used to run the factory.
Much of the Loral's R&D is customer needs driven. At present, customers are requesting higher performance satellites with an increased number of transponders and with higher total power. Such requests are driven by the growing need for satellites for DBS and the burgeoning high speed data market. Power onboard satellites has been progressing in an orderly fashion from 1 kW in the mid 1970s to 10 kW in currently delivered high powered satellites, i.e., a factor of 10 increase in power over two decades. Loral is working on new satellite designs that will enable it to offer upwards of 20 kW within the next five years. During our discussion, the interesting point was made that satellite power had doubled, and continues to double, every six years.
This enables ground station diameter to shrink by half every three years, and encourages the number of ground stations in use to double every year.
There is no doubt that this trend represents a technology enabler leading to the increased use of satellite dishes by small business and consumers at home, and is an important factor in the growth of the satellite business. Much of Loral's program to develop high powered satellites is based on the following:
In response to the WTEC questionnaire, Loral provided the following responses:
We toured Loral's high bay area where we saw six satellites in various stages of assembly and test. The Company has a compact antenna test range.
LS/C is a world class satellite manufacturing organization, with plans to expand into services. It has three major service programs:
GlobalStar is a 48 LEO satellite constellation that will start providing global, mobile communications service in late 1998.
CyberStar has been proposed to meet the demand for broadband services, especially in those regions of the world that lack a communications infrastructure. It will be integrated seamlessly into the terrestrial network. In addition to broadcast data distribution, it will provide broadband access to homes and businesses by a combination of LEO and GEO satellites, featuring intersatellite links. CyberStar will be built on the GlobalStar business model with strategic partners and investors, public financing and national franchises with Loral being the general manager. Loral will test the market for broadband services with CyberLink, which will be based on the use of transponders on existing satellites.
Loral Skynet, which was acquired from AT&T in early 1997, provides domestic satellite service using its four active GEO satellites, two at C-band and two at C/Ku-band with three C/Ku-band satellites in various stages of manufacture. These satellites are controlled from a facility located in Hawley, PA.
Loral has also formed a joint venture company called International Space Technology, Inc., with the Russian organization FAKEL and RIAME, to develop, market and be the exclusive distributor of electric propulsion systems. These thrusters will feature the FAKEL stationary plasma thruster (SPT) integrated with the SS/L-developed power processing unit.
Loral is a world class designer and manufacturer of satellites, with the capability of developing its own new technology or acquiring it through strategic partnerships. Its management views high launch costs as a problem that needs to be solved to increase the deployment rate of communications satellites. Loral has been growing its business by acquiring and developing new services that are dependent on its own satellites.