x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Abu Dhabi's Yahsat mulls third satellite for region

Yahsat: The company says there is a "strong" possibility of building a third spacecraft, following the launches of two other satellites at a total cost of Dh7 billion.

Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, the chief executive of Yahsat. Delores Johnson / The National
Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, the chief executive of Yahsat. Delores Johnson / The National

The Abu Dhabi-owned satellite company Yahsat is evaluating the launch of a third spacecraft.

Y1A, the company's first satellite, blasted into orbit last April from Kourou, French Guiana, in what was Abu Dhabi's first venture in the satellite industry.

A second communications spacecraft is slated to be launched later this year, as part of Yahsat's total investment of Dh7 billion (US$1.9bn).

Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, the chief executive of Yahsat, said a third satellite was under consideration.

"We think there is always the option of launching a third satellite.

"We want to grow organically. And this might be achieved by launching a third satellite. We are really evaluating this opportunity right now."

Abu Dhabi's satellite programme began out of a need to provide the UAE military with communications. However, the scope of the project was later broadened to include commercial opportunities.

Yahsat's first satellite provides communications to the UAE Army, as well as commercial links to corporate customers and TV broadcasters.

The second satellite will also provide broadband internet. Dubbed Y1B, it is due to lift off on a rocket operated by Yahsat's launch partner, the International Launch Services (ILS), based in the US.

Mr Al Hosani said, due to technical issues faced in one of ILS's previous launches, the second satellite had been delayed.

"Initially, we were supposed to launch in the first quarter. Now they are pushing us to early second quarter.

"And we want to maintain it either to the end of the first [quarter], or very early in the second," he said.

"Y1B is ready to be shipped for launch. Due to a mechanical failure [faced by ILS] during their last launch, our slots have been rescheduled. We are still trying to push to get an earlier launch."

The launch of Y1B is currently Yahsat's top priority, according to Mr Al Hosani.

"Until we launch our second satellite, we will not engage in the third one," he said.

"The contract we signed with the manufacturers to build two satellites, with the ground-control system and some terminals, was $1.66bn," Mr Al Hosani said.

"That doesn't take into account the buildings, the staffing, the project management and everything. So we are around Dh7bn."

Despite the hefty investment, Mr Al Hosani said Yahsat was meeting its financial targets.

"We want to have sustainable growth, with good revenues. We are a very profit-driven organisation: we worry about every penny," he said.

"We are in line with our initial business plan. Financially we are very stable, and we are meeting all of our initial financial targets."

Another of Yahsat's priorities is Emiratisation at its Abu Dhabi control centre.

Mr Al Hosani said 45 per cent of Yahsat's employees were UAE nationals and that the company aimed to boost this to between 60 and 65 per cent in five years.

"I think Yahsat will always have this international mix within it. Eventually we want to reach 60 to 65 per cent of nationals," he said.

"But we will always have international expats that will help give us the latest technologies and help develop the company."

bflanagan@thenational.ae