PARIS — The successful May 18 launch of a Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket carrying the SES-15 satellite gave launch-service provider Arianespace confidence that it can make its 12-launch goal this year despite a 44-day shutdown due to strikes in French Guiana.
The launch also allowed fleet operator SES to get its satellite into orbit more quickly than would have been the case if it had waited for a spot in the upper position of a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.
Pleasing SES, which is about to sign two more contracts with Arianespace, for Soyuz launches of eight SES O3b medium-Earth-orbit satellites in 2018 and 2019, is a prime goal for Arianespace. Luxembourg-based SES has become a big fan of Arianespace’s principal competitor, SpaceX. Arianespace will have difficulty matching SpaceX prices at least until 2020, when the new Ariane 6 rocket is in service.
Euro Soyuz and low-weight all-electric satellites
It was the second geostationary-orbit launch for the Europeanized Soyuz, which can lift up to 3,200 kilograms of satellite payload into a geostationary-transfer orbit from the equatorial spaceport on the northeast coast of South America.
It is this kind of launch option that makes all-electric satellites appealing. Boeing Satellite Systems International was the first Western provider to offer an all-electric option, and has demonstrated that the lower-weight all-electric option can result in substantial launch savings.
ABS of Bermuda and Eutelsat of Paris have each launched two all-electric Boeing-built satellites, in both cases sharing launches on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
SES-15, the fifth all-electric Boeing spacecraft, weighed just 2,302 kilograms at launch. SES Chief Technical Officer Martin Halliwell said after the launch that given the satellite’s payload and power — eight kilowatts at the end of its 15-year life — it has the performance of a much heavier satellite using conventional chemical propellant.
Arianespace said before the launch that another advantage of all-electric satellites is the ease of prelaunch handling at the spaceport. With no propellant fueling to deal with, operations take less time to accomplish.
Mark Spiwak, head of Boeing’s commercial satellite division, said the company delivered SES-15 to SES 25 months after the contract’s signing, five days ahead of schedule.
Boeing’s Spiwak: We hope to put SES-15 into operations early
Spiwak said that given the performance of the rocket, Boeing held out a hope of being able to hand over the satellite to SES to start commercial operations before late December.
That is the down side to the all-electric option. Owners save on mass and thus can either divert the savings to adding more payload or using a less-costly launcher. But electric satellites take months, not weeks, to reach their final destination in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator.
Spiwak said he hoped Boeing’s all-electric design would be a regular on future Europeanized Soyuz rockets. In fact, Boeing in the past has lost at least one all-electric-satellite contract because it was unable to find two satellites at a time to launch with SpaceX.
The SpaceX/Boeing all-electric-satellite tandem had been considered a model for other operators, but finding two companies willing to order and launch their telecommunications satellites at the same time has proved more difficult than predicted.
The Soyuz, while nominally more expensive than a shared SpaceX launch on Falcon 9, is nonetheless an option Boeing can now offer for solo customers.
SES-15: Wideband, HTS and GPS overlay
SES-15 will operate from 129 degrees west longitude. It has three missions. The first is a classic wide-beam Ku-band broadcasting function. The, second is a high-throughput-satellite (HTS) payload, also in Ku-band, to provide broadband access to maritime and aeronautical customers, and to government users.
The third mission is an L-band hosted payload for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Wide-Area Augmentation System, WAAS, which provides an overlay and signal verification for the medium-Earth-orbit GPS positioning, navigation and timing network.
Similar geostationary overlays have been launched by government authorities in Europe, Russia, China and Japan.
Arianespace’s Fabreguettes: Five down, seven to go this year
Arianespace Executive Vice President Luce Fabrequettes said after the launch that Arianespace’s 12-launch goal remained within reach. The SES-15 launch was the fifth.
The next launch, of an Ariane 5 rocket, will be of the ViaSat Inc. ViaSat-2 Ka-band consumer-broadband satellite over the Americas; and of the Eutelsat 172B Ku-band HTS spacecraft, to operate over Asia. A large portion of the payload has been leased to Panasonic Avionics for aeronautical and maritime connectivity.
Fabreguettes said Ariane 5 would conduct a second mission in June, with a scheduled June 28 launch of the EuropaSat/Hellas Sat-3 satellite, jointly owned by Inmarsat and the Arabsat-owned Hellas Sat of Greece.