Football panics in satellites since Starlink’s arrival on the market

Elon Musk’s satellite internet developments are disrupting the European satellite industry, which is all about merger. Belgium is worried.

“This is just the beginning”, believes Benoît Stockard. This Namur resident has been installing satellite antennas for over 30 years to receive TV programs and telecommunications services. In the summer of 2021, he discovered the high-speed internet marketed by Elon Musk’s SpaxeX from an ever-growing galaxy of satellites. “It’s the best service of its kind”, explains the technician. Her name? Starlink…

“This is just the beginning”, believes Benoît Stockard. This Namur resident has been installing satellite antennas for over 30 years to receive TV programs and telecommunications services. In the summer of 2021, he discovered the high-speed internet marketed by Elon Musk’s SpaxeX from an ever-growing galaxy of satellites. “It’s the best service of its kind”, explains the technician. Her name? Starlink… The antenna, which is part of the installation package, finds the satellites themselves and establishes the link, which works with almost no latency. “We are almost on the same level as fiber optics”, estimates Benoît Stockard. The man recently equipped a hotel in Hautes Fagnes, on Mont Rigi, with this technology to provide Wi-Fi in the rooms. The site is indeed poorly connected to the telecommunications networks. The technician also uses this service to provide ultra-fast internet access to event organizers, such as during the upcoming Festival des Solidarités in Namur. What, for example, to ensure optimal video transmissions. He even created a Facebook group (Starlink Belgium users) to share his experience. At this time, Starlink does not serve all consumers. The service primarily targets users with poor or no connection, fixed or mobile, anywhere in the world. But this remains a great potential market, already in the sights of other operators. The major players in the market, France’s Eutelsat or Luxembourg’s SES, have been selling the services of several dozen large satellites for television channels or telecommunications companies for decades, including for network access, but with lower performance. Unlike Starlink, which has already deployed more than 2,200 300 kg satellites placed at an altitude of 500 km, SES or Eutelsat operate with a small number of large satellites (38 for Eutelsat) launched several tens of thousands of kilometers into orbit. geostationary. . Admittedly, this device guarantees good coverage, but it causes some latency in the exchange of data, making it unsuitable for streaming video or video conferences, for example. In addition, the traditional market of these operators – television – is losing ground: in 2021, Eutelsat and SES generated 1.2 and 1.8 billion euros in revenue, respectively, values ​​in decline. The arrival of Starlink therefore forces them to move, perhaps opening up a new, low growth market, thus reducing latency in data exchanges. But Elon Musk’s company isn’t the only one: other competing constellations are in the works. The British OneWeb is one of the most advanced: it has already launched more than 400 satellites, and is also the subject of a merger project with Euteslat. As for Luxembourg’s SES, it would discuss a marriage with Intelsat to develop a similar strategy. For Eutelsat, which notably includes the French state among its shareholders, a merger with OneWeb would be perfect. The company would bring its significant financial resources to the British, who precisely need funds to complete their constellation. But not all investors are so excited. Since the announcement of this merger, the stock price of the French company has dropped dramatically. It must be said that its investment profile is changing: yesterday, a mature, stable company with predictable profitability will transform into a high-potential, high-risk start-up. This probably won’t be the last merger. The movement was inaugurated in 2021 with the acquisition of British Inmarsat by American Viasat, against 7.3 billion dollars. “These are logical consolidations because the industry is under pressure from Starlink and soon from Kuiper (identical service developed by Amazon, editor’s note), says Thibauld Jongen, CEO of Sabca which supplies parts for Ariane and Vega rockets and Airbus planes. This encourages us to think about approximations, to consolidate. “A sign of a certain acceleration: the European Commission has woken up. The Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, announced last January the launch of a European constellation of satellites competing with Starlink, called Connectivity. “This is a true geopolitical infrastructure. it will reduce our dependence on non-European commercial initiatives under development”, argued Thierry Breton. It is important to mention that the space market (launchers, manufacturers and operators of satellites) represents, in the Union, 8.8 billion euros and 43,000 jobs, according to the latest Space Market report from the European Parliament. These words are music to Thibauld Jongen’s ears: the CEO is also a director of Arianespace, a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, which markets satellite launches mainly through Ariane rockets. of launchers and satellites, we depend on the goodwill of other powers to develop the economy mia of the future, or the surveillance of borders, of the Earth”, summarizes the business manager. And the words of Thierry Breton please him even more because they are new. “Five or ten years ago, the European discourse was different: we were talking about the free market, about going to the highest bidder,” explains Thibauld Jongen. Since the Ukrainian crisis and the Trump era, there has been an awareness that ‘you have to be autonomous and sovereign’. “The creation of economic value will go through digital, therefore, through satellites”, repeats the CEO of Sabca. Many services in fact imply permanent access to data streams, even in places poorly served by GSM networks, the “white zones”. A restriction that also applies to planes, boats, or any connected objects. The states themselves need this type of service, which will also serve as a highly secure communication channel. 5G operation, especially on smartphones, will also be able to pass through satellites in poorly connected areas. However, the European Commission project presupposes better management of satellite service projects. Galileo, the European GPS, for example, suffered huge delays and technical problems. Including a one-week break in 2019… Thierry Breton promised new governance. It should be noted that Eutelsat is one of the potential suppliers for the European Commission’s connectivity project. But its merger with OneWeb can simplify and complicate things. It will make Eutelsat more attractive because the English company already has satellites in orbit, ready to use, which will be able to provide services to the European Union until the launch of the Connectivity constellation. But the presence of the British state in the capital of OneWeb, with the right of veto, could constitute a major trap if confirmed in the merged entity. Europe also woke up on the side of the launchers. It took a while to react to the arrival in 2008 of the cheaper SpaceX rockets, which currently dominate the market. Manufacturer ArianeGroup has seen its star launcher, Ariane 5, lose its appeal and part of its customer base. However, it ended up developing the Ariane 6, a cheaper rocket that should make its first flight in 2023, after some delays. “Ariane 6 will gradually reach a rate of 12 releases per year”, guarantees Thibauld Jongen. The administrator therefore believes that the crisis caused by SpaceX’s rise in Arianespace’s business has calmed down. The company recently won contracts for 18 releases with Ariane 6. Your sponsor? Amazon, which wants to deploy its new constellation of high-speed internet access, which will compete with Starlink. The giant Gafam has distributed the shipment of 3,236 satellites among three launch operators, including Arianespace. The latter also markets another European rocket, the Vega C, which passed its test flight last June, for small payloads, and is expected to represent four launches per year. This is good news for Sabca, which supplies electric and electro-hydraulic actuator systems that are used to guide the trajectory of rockets. As we said, the Belgian company supplies Ariane 5, Ariane 6 and the Vega family. “Ariane 6 has interesting features, in particular an ‘omnibus’ mode, which allows you to make multiple stops to install different satellites in so many different orbits”, explains Thibauld Jongen. Still, the Ariane 6 isn’t “recyclable” like SpaceX’s Dragon rockets, whose first stage returns to Earth and can be reused. If its cost is lower than that of the Ariane 5, it is therefore higher than that of its competitors. But that must change. “There are recyclable rocket projects in Europe, guarantees Thibauld Jongen. Sabca is, for example, one of the stakeholders in the Themis and Maia rocket projects.” One aims to develop a recyclable Ariane Next for the next decade. The other is a French light launcher design that is also partially reusable.

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