Satellite Servicing
Section 5.4.2.
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The Financial Feasibilty of Comsat Repair

Geoffrey Landis

Can we get enough money from grabbing dead communications satellites to pay for the expenses? A typical older-generation commsat may have 24 transponders. Transponders on a fully-functioning, up-to-date commsat rent for about two million dollars per year per channel. That means that the revenue for repairing a commsat comes to about 50 million dollars per year. A commsat lifetime is nominally 15 years. Amortizing at 10% (a wild guess), fifteen years of income equals exactly eight times the per-year income, so fifteen years of $50 million per year gives us a net present value of $400 million for a repaired commsat. This is close enough to the actual cost of a commsat that it's comfortably in the right ballpark.

Now, the downside. We have to spend this money as risk capital. Risk capital costs a minimum of 50% more than non-risk capital. (Why don't I multiply the cost of money by a factor of 1.5, instead of dividing the net present value? Because, once the mission is done, in year 1, the risk is gone. The risk premium comes only in year one; after that the commsat is an asset of known worth.) That means, roughly, if we could do the mission for about $250 million costs, that it would about break even. But breaking even would be great. We prove out the company, prove commercial manned space flight works, space-test equipment, and attract attention. But can we do it for $250 M?

If we can't, can we do two or three commsats in one mission for $250 M? Possibly not, on this latter question. Geosynchronous orbit slots are hugely valuable. It's quite possible that we could talk people into letting us fly to one commsat, but possible that the intervening owners would not let us wander around geosynch.

Can we repair dead commsats, though? And, can we guarantee to a bank that we can repair them, in space, the first time?

Satellite Servicing

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