The Eutelsat 172B satellite will begin commercial operations in early November. An all-electric satellite, its 4-month trip to geostationary orbit was declared a record by Eutelsat. Shown here are the 11 spot beams to be used by Panasonic Avionics for in-flight-connectivity service. Credit: Eutelsat

TOKYO — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 11 said its Eutelsat 172B all-electric-propulsion satellite, carrying a high-throughput spot-beam Ku-band payload over Asia for in-flight-connectivity provider Panasonic Avionics, had reached its geostationary-orbit position in record time.

Built by Airbus Defense and Space, the 3,550-kilogram 172B was launched on June 2 in the lower berth of a European Ariane 5 rocket. After initial checkout in its transfer orbit, the firing of its electric-thrusters began on Oct. 8.

The four-month trip “[breaks] the record for the fastest satellite electric orbit raising (EOR),” Eutelsat said.

Operators of satellites in geostationary orbit are moving from chemical to electric propulsion to save hundreds of kilograms of chemical-propellant mass. The weight savings can be used either to add additional revenue-generating payload or to secure a less-expensive launch, whose cost is often based on a satellite’s launch mass.

The downside of electric propulsion is that it takes much longer to push a satellite into its designated orbit, delaying revenue.

The debate now is among different electric-propulsion technologies to determine the optimal mass/time-to-orbit equation.

Yohann Leroy, Eutelsat’s Chief Technical Officer, added: “Eutelsat 172B confirms the relevance of Eutelsat’s early adoption of electric propulsion technology to optimize capex,” Eutelsat Chief Technical Officer Yohann Leroy said in an Oct. 11 statement. “In combining electric propulsion, high-throughput (HTS) capacity, robotic arms and 3D printing techniques, our new satellite also reflects Europe’s capability to push the envelope of innovation in order to increase the competitiveness of our business. We look forward to bringing Eutelsat 172B into service next month for our clients in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Chief among those clients is Panasonic Avionics, which is adding to its Pacific Ocean region capacity to serve airline routes.

Eutelsat 172B has 11 elliptical beams generating 1.8 Gbps of capacity and 13 Kw of power to its payload. Overlayed on the spot-beam capacity is a Ku-band wide beam that Panasonic will use to provide live TV to its airline customers.

The satellite’s footprint for Panasonic extends from the west coast of North America to Asia and Australia.

The satellite will replace Eutelsat 172A at 172 degrees east for Eutelsat’s C- and Ku-band services to customers.

The Pacific Ocean region is a major battleground for in-flight-connectivity providers. On a Sept 26 flight from Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles, a Delta Airlines crew said Gogo’s satellite service was spotty, with intermittent outages.

Panasonic’s David Bruner said here Oct. 10 that Panasonic would have 9 GHz of capacity in service by the end of this year, 80% of which will be HTS capacity.

“[W]ith our system design, operation strategy and the plasma thruster technology we implement, we have completed the fastest electric orbit raising ever from transfer to geostationary orbit, which will allow Eutelsat to put their electric satellite into service in record time”, said Nicolas Chamussy, head of Space Systems at Airbus.

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Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for SpaceIntelReport.com. 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