In June 2010, after a highly competitive process, Iridium announced the selection of Thales Alenia Space as the prime contractor for development of its next-generation satellite constellation — Iridium NEXT. With this agreement in place, Thales Alenia Space immediately began the design and development of 81 satellites — 66 operational satellites, six in-orbit spares and an additional nine ground spares. The project has seen an exceptional start with planning and design for the satellites and constellation, with the first satellite launches expected to begin in 2015.
Why Thales Alenia Space?
Plain and simple. Thales Alenia Space is without peer, especially in the field of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations, and as such it could provide Iridium with the most innovative and comprehensive solution, with a robust funding plan.
“We selected Thales Alenia Space for their expertise and resources required to manage Iridium NEXT, one of the biggest-ever commercial satellite programs. The team demonstrated their expertise and commitment to Iridium NEXT prior to selection, through their planning and due diligence throughout the process,” said Scott Smith, executive vice president, Iridium NEXT. “Thales sets the benchmark for excellence in advanced satellite technologies and innovation, and is clearly the worldwide industry leader in LEO technology.”
“Our contract with Iridium clearly shows that our company is a pivotal player in today’s market for satellite constellations,” said Reynald Seznec, President and CEO of Thales Alenia Space. “We have been able to combine our system competencies and our technical expertise with a unique industrial organization that allows us to set up a production chain, demonstrate our long experience in the management of industrial consortiums, and prove our ability to help customers carry out the procedures needed for financial arrangements.”
The Thales Alenia Space Story
So what goes into making an industry giant in the worldwide aerospace marketplace? Numerous key mergers and acquisitions that reshaped the company’s business structure and strengthened its market share.
Thales Alenia Space was born from the fruitful union of French and Italian leading satellite manufacturers, Alcatel Space and Alenia Spazio. In 2005, the two merged into Alcatel Alenia Space, owned by Alcatel-Lucent and Finmeccanica. Two years later, Alcatel-Lucent transferred its shareholdings to defense and security giant Thales Group. The result is Thales Alenia Space.
The company’s legacy is highly impressive: from the first landing on Saturn’s moon Titan to Herschel and Planck - the two deep space observatories; from remote sensing constellations to radar altimeters so advanced that they have become a reference for European; U.S. and Russian satellites. Thales Alenia Space is also famous for its weather satellites, space station modules and, of course, all kinds of communication satellites and payloads for commercial and international operators, from LEO to GEO.
Thales Alenia Space Today
Firmly established as one of the two leading European space industry giants and one the traditional six that dominate the communication satellite market worldwide, Thales Alenia Space achieved revenues exceeding 2 billion Euro ($ 2.75 billion) in 2009. Its 7,200 highly-qualified employees are disseminated on nine industrial sites throughout France, Italy, Belgium and Spain. These include a facility in Rome that was tailor-made for the integration of large series of spacecraft for constellations. In the recent years, Thales Alenia Space’s unique competence in this domain was recognized through the award of contracts for 145 satellites designed for LEO and MEO constellations.
Thales Alenia Space is building upon its expertise for the design, development and manufacturing of all kinds of end-to-end systems, from the most complex science and observation missions for the European, French and Italian space agencies - and NASA too - to a wide family of space communication solutions for commercial and government-owned operators worldwide (U.S., Europe, Russia, China, Brazil, Israel, Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America). Through multiple cooperations, Thales Alenia Space has been able to develop a unique competence in the management of cross-border programs with industrial partners in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and Latin America.
Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC), selected to integrate the Iridium NEXT satellites in the U.S., is already a long standing partner of Thales Alenia Space. The two have been working together on various international communication satellite programs. Thales Alenia Space also provides pressurized cargo modules for OSC's Cygnus unmanned resupply ships to the ISS and supports its Prometheus spaceplane project for NASA.