Telesat signs historic satellite deal with MDA to build Lightspeed


Telesat has awarded the contract to build 198 satellites its Lightspeed low Earth orbit (LEO) programme to space technology company MDA 

The contract is the largest in MDA’s history, being valued at around CA$2.1 billion (USD $1.56 billion), and will include the design, manufacture, and testing of the satellites, which will take place at MDA’s plant in Montreal. 

The programme will begin immediately, with Telesat aiming to launch its first satellites into orbit by 2026 and offer commercial services by 2027. 

The total cost for Lightspeed constellation is approximately $3.5 billion, which takes into account costs for launches, ground systems, and user terminal technology. Telesat will contribute CA$1.6 billion (USD $1.19 billion) in equity, and CA$2 billion (USD $1.49 billion) will come from Canadian government financing. 

This funding will be enough for the company to launch the first 156 satellites of the constellation, allowing it to offer global coverage. The remaining 42 satellites needed to complete the constellation will be launched gradually using the revenues generated from the constellation. 

“MDA is a world class satellite prime contractor with an impressive track record and a number of recent high profile, strategic space programmes announced, and it is a privilege to be working side-by-side with them on the flagship, game-changing Telesat Lightspeed constellation. MDA’s deep expertise as a LEO prime contractor, as well our own leading expertise in satellite operations and systems engineering, gives us the highest level of confidence in meeting our objectives,” said Dan Goldberg, Telestat’s President and CEO. 

“We believe in Telesat’s mission and vision and are excited that our software-defined digital satellite product will be a key enabler in meeting their goals as we work together to usher in the next generation of space-based satellite communications,” said MDA’s CEO Mike Greenley. 

The company had previously contracted European satellite specialist Thales Alenia Space to manufacture 298 satellites at an estimated cost of $5 billion, but the project was halted due to pandemic-related supply chain issues. Now, Telesat says it has saved roughly CA$2 billion (USD $1.49 billion) by reducing the size of its satellites by 75% and switching suppliers. 

Telesat aims to achieve a 30% return on investment from Lightspeed, which targets the enterprise and government connectivity market, and will not compete with firms such as Starlink in the direct-to-consumer market. 

How is the emergence of LEO satellite constellations changing the telecoms ecosystem? Join the operators in discussion at this year’s Total Telecom Congress live in Amsterdam 

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