Canada’s Telesat joins Musk and Bezos’ space race

Canada’s Telesat, a satellite communications firm founded in 1969 is racing to launch a low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite constellation to provide high-speed global broadband from space.

This pits Telsat against two trailblazing billionaires, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

Musk, the Tesla Inc CEO who was only a year old when Telesat launched its first satellite, is putting the so-called Starlink LEO into orbit with his company SpaceX.

Amazon.com Inc, which Bezos founded, is planning a LEO called Project Kuiper. Bezos also owns Blue Origin, which builds rockets.

Despite the competition, Dan Goldberg, Telesat’s chief executive officer, voices confidence when he calls Telesat’s LEO constellation “the Holy Grail” for his shareholders – “a sustainable competitive advantage in global broadband delivery.”

Telesat’s LEO has a much lighter price tag than SpaceX and Amazon’s, and the company has been in satellite services decades longer.

In addition, instead of focusing on the consumer market like SpaceX and Amazon, Telesat seeks deep-pocketed business clients.

Goldberg said he was literally losing sleep six years ago when he realized the company’s business model was in peril as Netflix and video streaming took off and fiber optics guaranteed lightning-fast internet connectivity.

Telesat’s 15 geostationary (GEO) satellites provide services mainly to TV broadcasters, internet service providers and government networks, all of whom were growing increasingly worried about the latency, or time delay, of bouncing signals off orbiters more than 35,000 km (22,200 miles) above earth.

Then in 2015 on a flight home from a Paris industry conference where latency was a constant theme, Goldberg wrote down his initial ideas for a LEO constellation on an Air Canada napkin.

Those ideas eventually led to Telesat’s LEO constellation, dubbed Lightspeed, which will orbit about 35 times closer to earth than GEO satellites, and will provide internet connectivity at a speed akin to fiber optics.

Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg poses for a photo at the offices of Telesat, a Canadian satellite communications company, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Blair Gable
Telesat’s first launch is planned in early 2023, while there are already some 1,200 of Musk’s Starlink satellites in orbit.

Starlink’s “first mover” advantage is at most 24 months and “no one’s going to lock this whole market up in that amount of time,” Goldberg said.

Telesat in 2019 signed a launch deal with Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin. Discussions are ongoing with three others, said David Wendling, Telesat’s chief technical officer.

They are Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, Europe’s ArianeGroup , and Musk’s SpaceX, which launches the Starlink satellites. Wendling said a decision would be taken in a matter of months.

Telesat aims to launch its first batch of 298 satellites being built by Thales Alenia Space in early 2023, with partial service in higher latitudes later that same year, and full global service in 2024.

The Lightspeed constellation is estimated to cost half as much as the $10 billion SpaceX and Amazon projects.

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