Israel’s Spacecom to launch ‘most advanced’ Amos satellite to service Africa

Amos-17 satellite will be launched early Sunday, Israel time, from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Spacecom CEO David Pollack speaking at a press conference in Ramat Gan on July 28, 2019, ahead of the launch of the Amos-17 satellite on August. 4, 2019, Israel time  (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)
Spacecom CEO David Pollack speaking at a press conference in Ramat Gan on July 28, 2019, ahead of the launch of the Amos-17 satellite on August. 4, 2019, Israel time (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Almost three years after losing its Amos-6 satellite in an explosion, Israel’s Spacecom is set to launch its newest and “most advanced” satellite to provide communications services over Africa.

The satellite, called Amos-17, was built by aerospace firm Boeing according to designs and specifications of the Ramat Gan-based Spacecom, also known as Space-Communication Ltd.

The craft is scheduled to be launched on Sunday at around 1:50 a.m. Israel time (6:50 p.m. Saturday local time) from Cape Canaveral in Florida, where it has already been loaded atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Depending on the weather, the launch could be delayed by a day, Spacecom said at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

The satellite is expected to operate for 20 years and provide services to customers in Africa. The firm has already received orders for services for a total of $58 million, said the firm in a statement, and Spacecom CEO David Pollack said at a press conference at the firm’s Ramat Gan offices that he believes more deals will be signed after the launch.

“The launch of Amos-17 is a significant milestone for the continued consolidation of Israel’s position in space and the growth of the company,” Pollack said at the press conference. “Amos-17 is one of the most advanced satellites in the world.”

The $250 million Amos-17 weighs 6.5 tons and will be the length of three buses, or some 35 meters (115 feet) long, once its wing-like solar panels are deployed in space. Fifty-five percent of its weight is due to the fuel it will carry, to enable it to reach its designated spot over Africa and remain in the correct orbit for the expected lifetime of the satellite.

Africa is a huge continent with the fastest growing population in the world, forecast to reach 2.5 billion in 2050, said Eran Shapiro, director, Business and Technology Ventures at Spacecom, at the press conference. It also has the highest percentage of young people, with about half of its current population under 18. The continent has a growing demand for content, with the number of households using digital TV growing some 20% year over year to 2022.

The continent, however, suffers from a lack of internet access infrastructure and has vast areas that are either underserved or completely not connected to any communication infrastructure.

“So the opportunity is clear,” said Shapiro. To get connectivity via the Amos-17 satellite, locals can set up a simple solar-powered terminal.

The satellite will be the first over Africa that will provide high-throughput satellite services (HTS) as well as C-band frequencies, which allow high availability of service, Shapiro said. It will be suited to the African climate and send a single beam per country, as opposed to numerous narrow beams provided by other common HTS satellites. Its digital payload will provide higher service availability and easier customer adaptation and expansion, the company said, and will be able to adapt to existing C-Band terminals on the ground, so there will be no need to upgrade equipment.

The Amos-17 is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral on August 4, Israel time, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (Raphael Mizrahi)

After its launch Amos-17 will travel in space for 11 days until it reaches its destined location, and it will take two days to deploy all of its antennas and solar panels. It will orbit the earth at a distance of 36,000 kilometers (22,360 miles), and at a speed of 11,000 kph.

Spacecom is a supplier of satellite services to satellite TV operators, internet and telephone providers, governments and private data companies. The firm, which started operations in 1993, has launched satellites and deployed them around the world.

Space drawings by children behind a model of a SpaceX rocket at the offices of Spacecom in Ramat Gan on July 28, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

The firm has three active satellites: Amos 3 and Amos 7 are located over Europe and serve  Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Amos 4 is located over India and Nepal, serving Asia and Africa. In a spate of ill-fated space missions, the firm lost contact with its Amos-5 satellite in 2015, and lost its Amos-6 spacecraft in an explosion on the launchpad of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in September 2016. The failed missions raised concerns over the fate of Israel’s space industry at the time.

The $300 million Amos-6 was slated to bring internet access to vast swaths of rural Africa and would have been a linchpin of an effort by social media giant Facebook to bring speedy internet access to sub-Saharan Africa.

Since the loss of Amos-6, Pollack said, it has been harder to sell services to customers before the satellite is actually in place. He declined to say if the planned project with Facebook for Amos-6 will now resume with Amos-17.

He added that the firm is in talks to sell services in Africa to a firm that is as big as Facebook.

Spacecom shares traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange were up 1.2 percent at 1:47 p.m. in Tel Aviv, capping its 12-month decline at 1.1%.

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