Satellite Executive of the Year: The Nominees

Last year, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell was crowned Via Satellite’s Satellite Executive of the Year (SEOTY), marking the second year in a row that a major launch provider won the award. Stephane Israel, Arianespace’s CEO, had won it the previous year. This year, there are a number of nominees for the industry’s most prestigious individual award.

However, while the Award is not new, some radical changes have been made. Previously, a Via Satellite committee would determine the winner, which would be announced in advance of the event. There were no surprises at the SATELLITE show, and everybody knew who would be receiving the award.

This time, the rulebook is being thrown out of the window. The SEOTY will be decided at the event, and the announcement of the winner will happen live at the SATELLITE 2019 Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, May 8th at 12:30 p.m. The winner will be chosen by a combination of votes collected by Via Satellite readers, the Via Satellite editorial board, and SATELLITE 2019 attendees!

Voting will end at 12pm noon EST on Tuesday, May 7th. The winner will be announced at the SATELLITE 2019 Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, May 8th at 12:30 p.m.

Curt Blake, CEO, Spaceflight Industries

Spaceflight Industries CEO Curt Blake has served as the next-generation launch company’s executive leader since 2012. In 2015, after spending three years expanding Spaceflight’s global network of launch service providers and building relationships with commercial-, civilian-, and defense-related customers, Blake laid out a vision for a historic launch that would become the company’s greatest accomplishment to date. The SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission was Spaceflight’s first-ever dedicated rideshare mission — a launch that took place on Dec. 3, 2018, sending the largest number of satellites from a U.S.-based rocket to space.

Traditionally, the company has purchased excess capacity from existing launches, sending secondary payloads to space. However, with this dedicated rideshare mission, Spaceflight purchased an entire SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and manifested the mission, sending a record-breaking 64 satellites to orbit in one trip. A launch such as this one, dedicated to small satellite developers with such variety (customers included government agencies, startups, universities and even a middle school, from 17 different countries), had never been attempted before. The SSO-A mission firmly established dedicated rideshare as a viable launch option for small satellites and businesses. Blake led the Spaceflight team through the entire process, from buying the rocket to launching it to space.

Throughout 2018, Spaceflight secured a number of major contracts with a variety of launch providers, including a three-launch deal with Rocket Lab, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Virgin Orbit, and an agreement to secure space on a number of upcoming launches with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Spaceflight also expanded its rideshare offerings to include Geosynchronus Transfer Orbit, which led to a contract with SSL and SpaceX to launch the first privately funded commercial lunar lander in 2019.

Blake and his company inked an impressive contract with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which is the research unit of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications. The contract award is the culmination of a multi-year, highly competitive government procurement process among global launch providers. The spacecraft will be the largest rideshare satellite Spaceflight has ever launched. With this nomination, Via Satellite recognizes Curt Blake for his historic achievement with the launch of the SSO-A mission, a successful year of securing contracts and future launches, and his contribution to providing access to space for a new and diverse group of satellites and organizations around the world.

Matthew Desch, CEO, Iridium

The successful replacement of Iridium’s Block 1 satellites and the full launch of its NEXT constellation was an astounding feat of technical, financial, and operational management — with everything falling into place under the leadership of CEO Matthew Desch. When Desch joined Iridium as its CEO in 2006, the Virginia-based operator was in poor financial shape. So much so, that its competitors were expected to buy out the company in order to dissolve it and salvage assets. Desch’s laser-focus on product and market development created an alternative path forward whereby a new constellation could be financed based on the company’s revenue and profit growth.

Iridium not only made history this past year with Iridium NEXT, the operator also received recognition in May 2018 as only the second-ever satellite provider for the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). This is a significant achievement that ended a decades-long monopoly, where only one company was authorized to provide the service and brings Global Marimite Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) coverage to 100 percent of the planet, including dangerous waters like the Northern Sea Route and other polar shipping lanes. Now with Iridium as a recognized GMDSS network, mariners will have a choice when it comes to their safety communications products and services.

As a business, Desch led Iridium to exceed expectations in 2018. Iridium’s 2018 fourth quarter was its 11th consecutive fiscal period of double-digit subscriber growth and its seventh consecutive revenue- and EBITDA forecast-beating performance — beating market estimates by 3.3 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively. The operator surpassed one million network subscribers in 2018, and its stock price reached a record increase of 92-percent compared to its performance just two years earlier, as risk associated with launching the new constellation consistently decreased. This has set the company up for a new financial era, including a Capital Expenditure (CapEx) holiday, opening the door for potential new investments and innovations.

Desch won Via Satellite’s Executive of the Year Award in 2012 for his innovative approach to worldwide mobile connectivity, his leadership during a six-year financial turnaround, and his vision for Iridium NEXT. Via Satellite now nominates Matthew Desch for the 2018 award for realizing those visions and making history in the process.

Jean-Loïc Galle, CEO, Thales Alenia Space

Under the direction of CEO Jean-Loïc Galle, Thales Alenia Space, Europe’s largest satellite manufacturer, designed and built 40 different spacecraft that were successfully launched in a single year. Three of these were observation satellites: Sentinel-3B for the European Space Agency (ESA); Mohammed VI-B for the Kingdom of Morocco; and CSO-1 for the French Ministry for the Armed Forces. The company delivered Bangladesh’s first Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) communications spacecraft, the Bangabandhu Satellite-1, as well as 34 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation, and two CYGNUS cargos for the International Space Station (ISS). This is an incredible amount of output for a satellite manufacturer catering to such a wide variety of customers and requirements.

From beginning to end, and from design to operations in-orbit, Galle guided Thales Alenia Space to become the first in history to successfully replace the biggest satellite constellation in the world, Iridium NEXT. While we have also nominated Iridium CEO Matt Desch for our Executive of the Year award, we feel that Galle and his team at Thales Alenia Space deserve the same recognition for unique — and equally, astonishing — technical achievements related to the Iridium NEXT constellation. Thales Alenia Space replaced each spacecraft of Iridium’s constellation, satellite by satellite, to create a new constellation without interrupting services and without a single technical hitch. This is a stunning achievement considering the complexity and scale of the entire operation. In the same year, Galle secured a contract with Telesat to develop system designs during a de-risking phase for its own LEO constellation.

Galle signed a number of key contracts in 2018, including an order from operator Eutelsat for a next-generation Very High Throughput Satellite (VHTS) satellite system named KONNECT VHTS, which will support the development of Eutelsat’s European fixed broadband and in-flight connectivity businesses. Thales Alenia Space has positioned itself as a thought leader and pioneer in digitalization and VHTS satellites, enabling new types of missions and dynamic capacity management to meet new business needs. The manufacturer will also build four radar satellites for Korean Aerospace Industry, as well as navigation systems and ground segment for IRIS, four Meolut NEXT stations, the Galileo Ground Mission, and the Sentinel-2 Ground Operation. Combine this with a number of space science and exploration contracts, and you’ll find that 2018 was a remarkable year for Thales Alenia Space’s future-facing business.

Perhaps the most important achievement of all, the women and men at Thales Alenia Space say that Jean-Loïc Galle has been instrumental in helping them cope with the challenges of advanced technology and encouraging innovative thinking at the highest level. He has also helped pioneer new ways of working, such as “Digital Twin Solutions” to make satellite operations smarter and safer, and “Digital Transformation” tools using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to complement human activities. It is for these many reasons that we nominate Thales Alenia Space CEO Jean-Loïc Galle for our 2018 Satellite Executive of the Year award.

Victor Nelson, President and Founder, Sector Microwave Industries (SMI)

Component manufacturers may not enjoy the same level of fame and glory as the larger prime contractors in our community, but they are just as vital to the health of our industry. If components fail, systems fail. This year, we are recognizing Sector Microwave Industries (SMI) President and Founder Victor Nelson for his outstanding executive leadership and 2018 performance in the ultra-competitive components market — a performance that caps 44 straight years of profitability for the New York-based company.

SMI was established in 1974, serving the microwave and RF community with high-quality waveguide, coaxial, and waveguide/coaxial switches for communication, military, and satellite application. SMI switches operate in Earth orbit by the thousands, and have been to five different planets, an asteroid, and close to the sun, operating on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

In 2018, Nelson negotiated a $11.5 million contract with Northrop Grumman for over 300 space switches. The company was awarded and delivered 50 space switches to India’s Space Applications Center (SAC) worth over $1.1 million. SMI also won contracts with NASA JPL to supply switches for the MARS 2020 Rover Mission, Pluto and beyond-New Horizons, Juno (Jupiter) and NASA’s Osiris-Rex. Most impressive of all, SMI manufactured more than 8000 ground switches for satellite communications world-wide in 2018 along -- all designed, engineered, machined, assembled and tested by the company’s 60 employees based at SMI manufacturing facilities in Long Island, NY.

SMI also delivered an innovative new product to its customers in 2018 -- a “Cowave” switch, capable of handling high power and tuned by design to a wide band of waveguide frequencies up to 50 Gigahertz (GHz). Previously, the microwave industry lacked suitable coaxial switches for frequencies above 30 GHz that could also handle high power. In addition to addressing this need, SMI’s Cowave switch is contactless, meaning that the unit uses a miniature waveguide rotor and waveguide channels, enabling the transfer of energy inside its housing.

Victor Nelson not only serves as CEO, but also leads the designing and engineering of SMI switch products. While his products are small in size, the value of their role in larger systems cannot be understated. And, while SMI is a relatively small company compared to most aerospace manufacturers, its output, efficiency, profitability, and legacy more than qualifies Victor Nelson for recognition as a top contender for the 2018 Satellite Executive of the Year Award.

Peter Platzer, CEO, Spire Global

It’s hard to believe that San Francisco-based satellite observation data company Spire Global is still, technically, a “startup.” In 2018, just six years into the life of the company, Spire operates the third-largest satellite constellation in the world behind Iridium and Planet. The company’s satellites hit a milestone this year of more than 100 years of collective time in-orbit. Spire CEO Peter Platzer was nominated for this award last year for being one of a handful of entrepreneurs to emerge from the NewSpace movement with an abundance of financing, a successful business model, and a rapidly growing maritime market share.

This year, we are once again recognizing Platzer as a Satellite Executive of the Year finalist for an astonishing list of innovative and financial achievements and new milestones reached throughout the year. In 2018, Spire’s full-year maritime sector revenues increased 160 percent from 2017. The company was publicly awarded contracts with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In December, Platzer’s company became the first in the world to partner with the ESA to use the European Union’s Galileo constellation to gather advanced weather data worth as much as $2.7 billion for Spire over the next 25 years.

Later that same month, Spire landed an agreement with ITOCHU Corporation, one of the largest trading companies in Japan and among the world’s largest companies, to sell Spire’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data-powered global aircraft services within the Japanese market and the rest of the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. With approximately 110 bases in 62 countries, ITOCHU will utilize Spire Automatic Identification System (AIS) and weather products in support of their current businesses and partners.

Platzer also hit important operational milestones in 2018, with the launch of Spire’s first aircraft tracking sensors, and becoming the first commercial satellite company to reach 1000 Global Navigation Satellite System Radio Occulation (GNSS-RO) profiles per day downloaded. Spire also rolled out its Orbital Services program to become the world’s first full service space mission provider. If that weren’t enough, Platzer also opened the doors to Spire’s largest and newest office facility in Boulder, Colorado.

This was an incredibly productive and successful year for Peter Platzer and his team at Spire, and one worth recognizing with an Executive of the Year award nomination. VS

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