Final Analysis: Foreign Launches Are Faster
The Maryland company is tapping international partners to ply a promising but unproven market
P> As a child in underdeveloped Iran, Nader Modanlo recalls reading about man's first walk on the moon. At that moment, he knew he would do something with space for the rest of his life. More than three decades later, he is founder and president of one of the nation's leading commercial satellite communication companies.
Modanlo and his colleague Mike Ahan founded privately held Final Analysis in 1992 to explore ways to cash in on the commercialization of space. They chose their company name to convey a sense of how they evaluate a project several different ways before the final analysis.
"We don't have the time to do something over and over again," said Ahan, executive vice president. "We have to do it right the first time."
Final Analysis provides spacecraft design, analysis and fabrication, and launch vehicle design and analysis. Its subsidiary, Final Analysis Communication Services, supplies telecommunications services including messaging, two-way paging, asset tracking, data acquisition and environmental monitoring. Those services are provided via an ambitious network of satellites the company is launching.
Modanlo's larger opportunity will come from this commercially oriented service -- that is, if the anticipated market blossoms.
The potential for this market has baffled many analysts. According to Alisa Miller, a manager of space markets accounts for DFI International in Washington, D.C., the market for newfangled satellite telecommunication services has not yet taken shape. "It's the $100 million question," said Miller. "You have half the space analysts in the country trying to figure this out." Miller said the industry will rely heavily on how cellular communication companies react to the services offered by satellite communication companies.
Besides NASA and the Department of Defense, the company's clients include utility companies that use the Final Analysis satellites to perform meter readings, trucking companies that track cargo and remote messaging service companies.
Modanlo has found international space companies to be among his most reliable partners. In fact, he said the space industry is driven by French companies such as Arianespace, Spot Image and Alcatel. He describes the international satellite business as "ship and shoot" operations.
"International companies spend 10 days preparing for a launch, while in the United States it takes several months," said Modanlo. "Using international companies is... cheaper and more efficient."
For instance, the $10 million company will use a Russian rocket to launch its 26-satellite Little LEO constellation. Final Analysis and Polyot Enterprises of Russia reached an agreement earlier this year for Polyot to launch satellites for a new satellite communications system. As a result, Final Analysis now is one of the few companies in the world that possesses launch rights to deploy an entire "constellation" -- space industry talk for a grouping of satellites. The $200 million constellation, which will be launched by 2000, will be used to provide a new generation of non-voice digital-data mobile satellite services.
The launch will be performed by the Cosmos rocket, considered the world's most reliable and most proven launch vehicle in its class -- with a 99.1 percent success rate. The rocket launched Final Analysis' first commercial satellite earlier this year.
Before starting Final Analysis, Modanlo and Ahan worked as engineering contractors for NASA and the Air Force. Modanlo felt that budget cuts at NASA and the Department of Defense could threaten U.S. leadership in space technology.
"After working for a bureaucracy for so long, we decided to start our own company to do it faster, cheaper and better," said Modanlo.
The company's competitors include CTA Inc. in Rockville, Md., and Spectrum Astro in Arizona. However, Modanlo is reluctant to point to competitors because "in this industry, your competitors are also your potential partners in other areas." Within the last three years, the company has grown to 32 employees with a manufacturing plant in Logan, Ohio.
Modanlo said the future of satellite communications rests on the commercial sector. But he thinks NASA and government, in general, will continue to play a key role. "The majority of technology today, the government has initiated in research initiatives," said Modanlo. "For this reason, the government has to be a major player in the satellite industry." Ahan said the government should help industry through cost-sharing programs to keep the space program afloat.
As for the future of Final Analysis, Ahan wants 90 percent of his business to come from commercial contracts.
Modanlo, who holds a Ph.D. from George Washington University in fluid mechanics and thermal science, hopes the company will become a leader in digital data communication and a leading manufacturer in low-cost, light spacecrafts.
"We want something up there, small and low-cost, and it's possible for us," said Modanlo. "We need to work toward one earth, one global activity."