Saturn completes funds for $500 million GEO small satellite program

TAMPA, Fla. — Saturn Satellite Networks is close to securing capital for another attempt to launch its small geostationary satellite business, according to an executive at the US-based company.

The company told a December 20 News Release that equity investors have pledged to fund nearly half of the $500 million Space BroadbandNetworks-1 (SBN-1) program, which includes six identical satellites destined for geostationary orbit (GEO) in 2025.

Those backers include German investment firm EMP Structured Assets and an unnamed U.S. defense contractor that Saturn vice president Kevin Reyes said would be revealed “very soon.”

Reyes said SpaceNews that Kronos has a letter of commitment from the Export–Import Bank of the United States, the country’s export credit agency, which it plans to launch in the first quarter of 2023 to cover the remaining financing needs of the project.

Once Saturn completes contracts with equity investors, he said the Melbourne, Fla.-based manufacturer will begin ordering parts and conduct preliminary and critical design reviews to begin manufacturing, assembly and testing.

“Actual construction and integration will begin later in 2023 or early 2024,” he said via email.

Reyes said the company has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with “a prominent heavy-lift launch system operator” to deploy all six satellites in one mission in the second half of 2025.

Developmental delays

The project aims to get Saturn back into orbit after setbacks for a company founded five years ago by former executives of satellite firm ABS.

The SBN-1 satellites are based on Saturn’s Intelligent Space Node (ISN) platform, which is an evolution of the NationSat Saturn platform developed three years ago after an investment in NovaWurks, a California-based satellite development company.

SpaceNews mentionted in 2019 that Intersputnik, a Moscow-based intergovernmental organization that resells satellite capacity, had signed up as a customer for the first NationSat mission. This mission was at one point scheduled to fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 shared mission in 2021.

Reyes declined to identify Intersputnik as the customer of the first NationSat, saying the mission was canceled “because the project did not materialize as expected.”

Saturn also once planned to deploy one or two NationSats on Northrop Grumman’s OmegA rocket in 2021 — despite not having a client for them — before Plans for this launch system were cancelled.

Unlike NationSat, Kronos says the Intelligent Space Node platform uses independently steerable and configurable beams that would allow their operators to move and adjust the ability to adapt to changing mission needs.

The Intelligent Space Node is also designed to they operate on about seven kilowatts of power, compared to five kilowatts for the NationSat platform.

In its Dec. 20 news release, Kronos said phased-array antennas from Austin, Texas-based CesiumAstro would allow SBN-1 to provide high-throughput service at more than 120 gigabits per second, despite being much smaller than standard GEO telecommunications spacecraft to save. Court fees.

While GEO telecommunications spacecraft typically weigh thousands of kilograms, Reyes said the SBN-1 satellites will have a mass of about 650 kilograms.

SBN-1 has secured more than $1 billion in usage commitments from satellite operators and other end users, according to the news release, through commercial agreements that include full and partial satellite leases.

Saturn still markets the NationSat platform, which Reyes said has completed a preliminary design review and is suitable for operators and countries that prefer a dedicated mission with special payloads.

The company also offers a two-kilowatt satellite platform, called MiniGEOSat, and a version of the ISN designed for non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).

Reyes said Kronos has “executed a launch agreement” with a US-based company to deploy its first NGSO satellite in the second half of 2024.

In addition to servicing payload customers, he said the mission aims to demonstrate a broadband constellation called Curvanet being developed by Saturn’s sister company Curvalux.

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