Interview: Vivian Quenet, Managing Director APAC, Arianespace

All images on this page courtesy of Arianespace.

Vivian Quenet was appointed the Managing Director for Arianespace in Singapore just under two months ago. He is in charge of the development and consolidation of Arianespace’s commercial and government relations across the region, with a focus on ASEAN countries.

Quenet brings nearly 20 years of experience in the satellite communications industry. Prior to joining Arianespace, he was the Vice President and Managing Director, Asia-Pacific for KVH Industries Pte Ltd, a position he held for seven years.

In an exclusive interview, SpaceTech Asia spoke to Quenet on Arianespace’s activities in the region, the company’s upcoming launch vehicles, and how he sees the APAC market shaping up, along with an overview of competitor capabilities.

What is your background, and why did you decide to move to Arianespace?

I started in telecommunications about 20 years ago in the mobile phone industry in France. Then I started to sell satellite communication in Africa, then in Europe, and then in Europe for the maritime business.. [Later on] In 2005, I was missioned to seek new business opportunities in Asia. Eventually I opened and managed our offices in Asia in Singapore and Hong Kong. After 5 or 6 years we were one of the leaders in the region. And that’s when KVH Industries, an American company, came and said, “We are a maritime VSAT supplier, and we would like to set up our operation in Asia.” 6 years later, we were the leader in Asia again.

So therefore I’m very familiar with all the carriers, whether it’s in Asia or Europe or the USA. Arianespace was interested in my profile precisely because 50% of the satellites launched by Ariane are communication satellites. On my side, I had spent 20 years doing the same thing and I wanted a change. But I really like the satellite industry, and beyond that, I really like the whole of the space industry.

Why do you like the space industry?

The space industry is still small – we’re still talking about a niche market – yet we’re talking about something very international. And there are not that many industries like that.

Like in an MNC, you are addressing International and competitive markets, but in the end, you’re only talking to friends, even competitors. Whether I go to the US or Europe, there’s always a hand to shake, there’s always somebody I know. That’s quite pleasant and I didn’t want to leave that.

What are the similarities and differences between the communications satellite industry and the launch services industry?

When it comes to business, it’s quite similar. I actually am talking to the people I was talking to before. There are many overlaps with people, more than I thought.

And then there are also some things which are brand new, for example, with earth observation satellites, which I find quite interesting. I’ve also learned what you can do with an observation satellite, especially the radar satellite.

How is the satellite market changing?

There are two things happening in the market. You have, on the one hand, all those communications satellites which are launched in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on a global scale, like O3b. With that, you cannot sell the service if you don’t have global coverage. What you need is to launch as many satellites as fast as possible. So as a supplier, we need to be able to launch many satellites very fast, in a reliable way.

There is also a trend with Earth Observation satellites, and even cubesats, which tend to be much smaller, much lighter, and they don’t need those big launches. What they’re looking at is more price per kg. [These satellites might be] 50kg, 250kg earth observation or weather satellites, up to 500kg.

How is Arianespace addressing these changes?

That’s why we are developing Ariane 6, with more capacity, but most importantly, more flexibility. Now we have dispensers inside which will allow you, for example, on the Ariane 6, to launch up to 80 satellites in one go, [which will suit] a constellation like OneWeb, with whom we already signed 21 launches with the Soyuz.

But if we had to fill in an Ariane 5 or Ariane 6 with 150kg, you would have to wait a long time. We’d rather do it with a smaller launcher, which is Vega.

And with Vega C, we’re now making it with a much bigger fairing, and one of the reasons is, we can put many more satellites which are not necessarily heavier than before. Actually satellites are getting lighter, but there’s a big trend on radar satellites, which are bigger and need more space.

The Vega C, artist’s illustration.

How will Ariane 6 and Vega C make Arianespace more competitive?

For Ariane 5, we have no problems finding customers. Where we have problems is to have customers at a competitive price. So the goal of Ariane 6 is to keep the reliability of Ariane 5, which I think is unmatched in the industry, but for a price that is as competitive as our competitors.

How are we going achieve that? Simply by rationalizing, streamlining and finding some synergies across our launchers. For example, you have Ariane 64 and Ariane 62. Ariane 64 is the Ariane 6 with 4 boosters, Ariane 62 is the same with 2 boosters. And Vega will have the same boosters. Because all those boosters are going to be produced in the same location, we’re going to reduce our logistics and our transportation costs, and simplify our processes. And suddenly, from producing about 12 boosters a year for the Ariane 5, we’re going to produce 35 boosters. So all this together now is going to allow us to save about 30% on cost.

When can we expect the maiden launches of Vega C and Ariane 6?

Ariane 62 (left) and Ariane 64 (right)

The maiden launch of Vega C is 2019, and the launch of Ariane 6 is going to happen earlier than expected. We’re talking now about 2020. We already have some orders on Ariane 6. In 2020 and in 2021, it’s going to be overlapping with Ariane 5. We’ll have both. And for some customers, we’re already negotiating the Ariane 6 price, but they may actually be launched on an Ariane 5.

What do you think of the Asian market?

Although you have this worldwide trend of LEO, in Asia, for many reasons, there’re still a lot of GEO projects. Partly because those projects are government or military driven, partly because there isn’t an open sky policy in all the countries in Asia, there’s still a lot of protectionism somehow. The projects are there. At least this year, there are potentially 4 or 5 projects coming up. Whether we will win the projects is another story.

Do you view Asian space agencies as credible competitors to Arianespace?

For China, I think they have a different approach. They come with a full package type of solution. I think they are addressing people who don’t really have the competence to build – you need to have a space programme, you need to have the engineers…it’s difficult. Whether it’s successful or not, I think you need to see how many deals they get. They got one in Laos, one in Indonesia – how much that compares to all the deals, I don’t know. Maybe 20%. It’s not negligible, but they didn’t take the whole market either. There’s pros and cons here – but the satellites from Thales, Airbus, Loral or Boeing are of a different quality, just to talk about something I’m not involved with.

What do you think of the space industry in Singapore?

There’s a lot of things happening. There are two companies in Singapore doing launches. They’re addressing a market that we’re not addressing at all. So I think it’s good, especially for all these cubesats, university satellites. I think maybe they can bring a solution which wouldn’t be possible for us. So I think they’re filling a gap, I welcome those people. I see the National University of Singapore (NUS) and DSO National Laboratories have some projects also, and I like it. That’s how it starts. A bit of military, a bit of research, and then you have a nice cluster. And we would like to be involved.

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