Ariane 5 lifts off from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, on the northeast coast of South America, on June 1, in the vehicle’s 79th consecutive success. The launch, carrying the ViaSat-2 broadband satellite and the all-electric Eutelsat 172B, was insured for a record $786 million. Credit: Arianespace Youtube video

PARIS— June 1’s successful Ariane 5 launch was a key event for the 2018 revenue of the two customers, ViaSat Inc. and Eutelsat and a huge relief for space insurance underwriters.

At $786 million, the Ariane 5 mission carried the most insurance ever provided for a single launch. The ViaSat-2 Ka-band broadband satellite was insured for $545 million, which might not have been enough to cover the satellite’s loss. Eutelsat’s 172B was insured for $241 million.

With insurance premiums continuing to fall as more underwriters enter the market, the consequences of a large failure increase.

For Arianespace, the launch was the 79th consecutive success. Next up will be the Inmarsat/Arabsat/Hellas Sat mission, which will share an Ariane 5 with the Indian Space Research Organization’s GSAT-17 satellite. The launch is scheduled for June 28.

Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said after the launch that the company remains on track to conduct 12 missions in 2017 — including Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega rockets — despite the five-week shutdown due to a general strike in March at the European spaceport in French Guiana.

Airbus joins Boeing with all-electric satellites in orbit

Nicolas Chamussy, executive vice president for space systems at Airbus Group, said the Eutelsat 172B was successfully transmitting signals and appeared healthy in orbit after separation from the Ariane 5. ViaSat said the ViaSat-2 likewise was healthy in orbit.

The 172B is Airbus’s first all-electric model, the Eurostar 3000 IOD, and at 3,551 kilograms was in the lower berth of the Ariane 5. The technology development was partly financed by the French space agency, CNES; the European Space Agency; and France’s public bond fund, PIA, for Investing in the Future Program.

Operating from 172 degrees east, 172B will deploy a triple payload: 14-C-band transponders for telecommunications in Asia; 36 Ku-band transponders for direct-broadcast television in Asia; and 11 Ku-band high-throughput (HTS) spot beams leased by in-flight connectivity provider Panasonic Avionics.

For Panasonic, 172B fills an important gap in its coverage of Asian flight routes. The Panasonic lease also means immediate revenue for Eutelsat as soon as the satellite is in service by the end of they year.

As an all-electric satellite, 172B weighed 40% less than it would with conventional fuel, meaning a less-expensive launch. It could not have flown in Ariane 5’s lower berth below ViaSat-2 if it carried conventional chemical propellant.

But the electrical propellant option carries the down side of a much longer time to get to final geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator. Eutelsat and Airbus have said it will take about six months.

The launch gives Paris-based Eutelsat title of most all-electric satellites in orbit. The company has two built by Boeing Satellite Systems International, which is now joined by Airbus Defence and Space as the only Western companies that have built all-electric satellites.

Russian satellite builders have launched all-electric satellites for some time, but none with the mass or power — 13 kilowatts at the end of its 15-year operational life — of the Eutelsat 172B.

Eutelsat Deputy CEO Yohann Leroy said ordering three more launches on Ariane 5, for 2018 and 2019, should improve Eutelsat’s negotiating hand with Arianespace for the Ariane 6 rocket, debuting in 2020. Credit: Arianespace Youtube video

Eutelsat 7C, Quantum and Thales-built Ka-band booked on Ariane 5

Eutelsat Deputy Chief Executive Yohann Leroy said after the launch that Eutelsat on June 1 booked three more launches with Arianespace, all for Ariane 5 missions. The Eutelsat 7C, under construction by SSL, will launch in 2018.

The innovative, software-defined Quantum satellite, built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. and Airbus Defence and Space, will launch in  2019, as will the large Ka-band HTS satellite being built by Thales Alenia Space.

Interestingly, Eutelsat did not call this last satellite Konnect Africa. It was originally designed for broadband distribution in sub-Saharan Africa at a time when Eutelsat expected Facebook or some other partner to share the cost.

Whether the satellite is being repurposed for some other mission or will retain its original Africa footprint is uncertain.

As important as it is for Eutelsat, the ViaSat-2 is even more critical for the growth of ViaSat Inc.

Its first mission is to offer ViaSat more in-orbit capacity for its existing consumer satellite broadband service in the United States, which has stagnated in the past two years as some ViaSat-1 beams have filled.

ViaSat-2 weighed 6,418 kilograms at launch and is designed to provide 18 kilowatts of power its payload. It will be the highest of high-throughput satellites, 300 Gbps of throughput, more than double ViaSat-1’s 140 Gbps. ViaSat-2’s coverage area is seven times the size of ViaSat-1 and brings ViaSat into South America, the Caribbean and across the Atlantic to serve air and maritime routes.

“With ViaSat-2, we begin a transition from being a domestic U.S. company primarily, to now being a regional company, and in transition to being a global company,” ViaSat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg said after the launch.

ViaSat and Eutelsat have formed joint-venture companies for consumer broadband in Europe, with ViaSat taking over the commercial deployment of Eutelsat’s Tooway consumer broadband service, provided by Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat, with 70 Gbps of throughput.

The two companies are negotiating a longer-term agreement under which Eutelsat would finance half the cost of a next-generation ViaSat-3 satellite over Europe, now under construction by Boeing, with ViaSat building the payload. industry officials say Eutelsat remains uncertain of whether to commit to ViaSat-3.

ViaSat’s goal of three terabit-per-second satellites — over the Americas, Europe and Asia — is now two-thirds contracted. The third satellite, over Asia, is still not under construction. ViaSat has been unable to find a partner in Asia, where many national and regional satellite operators are already building their own HTS satellites.

Mark Spiwak, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, said ViaSat-3 will have more than 25 kilowatts of power and use an all-electric propulsion system.

ViaSat-2 uses chemical propulsion to raise the satellite from its transfer orbit to final geostationary position. Then its xenon-ion electric propulsion takes over to make the minor maneuvers to maintain the satellite in its geostationary position for at least 15 years.

Unlike ViaSat-1, ViaSat-2 is able to allocate power and bandwidth depending on demand, which in principle means there will be no more cases of ViaSat seeking customers empty beams while turning away customers under fully booked beams.

ViaSat has been unwilling to publish detailed photos of ViaSat-2, but the deployment of its unfurlable Ka-band reflector antennas, built by Harris Corp., will be an industry first, according to Harris.

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Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeminent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes