Intelsat expands OneWeb LEO partnership

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WASHINGTON — Geostationary satellite operator Intelsat has bought at least five times more capacity from Eutelsat’s OneWeb low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation to strengthen its multi-orbit broadband strategy.

The companies announced March 19 that Intelsat has made a firm commitment to buy $250 million worth of LEO capacity over six years starting mid-2024. Intelsat also has the option to acquire an extra $250 million worth of capacity under their deal, which would extend the length of the contract by a year to 2031.

The agreement marks a major step up from Intelsat’s commitment in March 2023 to buy $45 million worth of LEO capacity, which has barely been put into service amid delays in fully deploying the ground infrastructure OneWeb needs to provide full coverage this year.

“The market demand has changed significantly over the past 18 months” since the companies first started collaborating, Intelsat CEO David Wajsgras told SpaceNews in an interview here.

Whereas the initial agreement only covered Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific, Wajsgras said the expanded partnership is global and covers all of Intelsat’s key markets, although the operator is currently focusing on aviation and government customers.

OneWeb is currently available in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia, as well as parts of Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean.

“We are seeing demand signals that actually could exceed half a billion dollars” over the contract period, Wajsgras added.

Next-generation partner

The partnership also allows Intelsat to help shape Eutelsat’s plans to begin replacing OneWeb satellites as they near the end of their design life around 2027 and 2028.

Wajsgras said Intelsat intends to work very closely with Eutelsat’s engineering and business development teams to determine the best path for deploying incremental LEO capabilities. 

“We’re not investing as part of this collaboration but it’s something we thought was very important given the size of the capacity we just agreed to procure from Eutelsat,” he said.

Intelsat announced an agreement last year to sell geostationary and LEO satellite connectivity to the largest telco in the Falkland Islands, and the operator has also racked up multiple multi-orbit deals with airlines, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, and Aerolineas Argentina.

During a March 18 panel at the Satellite Conference here, Wajsgras said Intelsat had won more airline business with a multi-orbit offering than over the prior three years combined with a geostationary-only service. 

He also said Intelsat should decide by the end of June whether to invest in its own medium Earth orbit network to broaden its multi-orbit capabilities.

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