Telesat has finally obtained the necessary funds for its low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband network. The Canadian operator initially intended to expand out of geostationary orbit (GEO) six years ago but encountered production issues at Thales Alenia Space, leading to a pivot towards smaller satellites from MDA.
MDA has announced a contract to deliver 198 satellites for Telesat’s Lightspeed constellation, with launches set to begin in mid-2026. These satellites will be approximately 75% smaller, weighing 750 kilograms each. Telesat has already secured $3.5 billion in equity and Canadian federal and provincial financing for 156 satellites, allowing for the initial deployment of polar and global services.
The smaller satellite design is made possible by digital beam-forming array antennas, which were initially considered immature for the constellation. Blue Origin and Relativity Space rockets, still under development, will also be used for deployment.
Telesat is racing to get its LEO plans back on track as competitors such as OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink densify their operational networks. The company’s CEO, Dan Goldberg, emphasizes the importance of execution across various fronts.
Telesat is working intensively with MDA to launch the program and finalize contracts with other vendors. They are currently in the process of expanding their workforce and expect to make additional announcements regarding launch providers and ground segment providers.
The first launch for Lightspeed will consist of full-scale satellites, although a few may be launched initially for in-orbit testing. Mass production is projected to begin in the middle of the second half of 2025.
Telesat has established arrangements with Blue Origin and Relativity Space for launch agreements. The company also recently announced a contract with SpaceX for 14 Falcon 9 launches. Goldberg expresses confidence in Blue Origin, stating that New Glenn will be available for Telesat’s mid-2026 launches.
Telesat will not be able to leverage much of the early work done by Thales, as MDA is developing its own digital beam-forming antenna, onboard processor, and bus design.
Closing the financing for the LEO constellation on the Thales path proved difficult due to COVID-19’s impact on supply chains and production. Inflation and schedule delays caused by the pandemic led Telesat to explore a more cost-effective alternative with MDA. Eventually, they secured funding and made the switch to smaller satellites.
Telesat expects to move forward with its Lightspeed constellation, now armed with funding and a revised plan involving MDA’s smaller satellite design.