You'd never know it from the launch webcast, but the Ariane 5 rocket's Feb. 14 launch of DirecTV's SkyB-1 direct-broadcast-television satellite for Brazil and Indonesia's Telkom-3S also launched Intelsat's 32e high-throughput Epic satellite payload. Through what they characterize as an You’d never know it from the launch webcast, but the Ariane 5 rocket’s Feb. 14 launch of DirecTV’s SkyB-1 direct-broadcast-television satellite for Brazil and Indonesia’s Telkom-3S also launched Intelsat’s 32e high-throughput Epic satellite payload. Through what they characterize as an “innovative operational and ownership structure,” Intelsat and DirecTV are dividing use of the DkyB-1 Ku-band payload. DirecTV Latin America will use the beams over Brazil, while Intelsat will use the beams outside of Brazil. There’s a third owner of capacity on SkyB-1: Yahsat of the United Arab Emirates, which purchased the satellite’s Ka-band payload for Yahsat’s broadband business in Brazil. Credit: Intelsat


PARIS — Hidden behind the two showcase customers for the Feb. 14 Ariane 5 launch of DirecTV’s SkyB-1 and PT Telkom Indonesia’s Telkom-3S were Yahsat of the United Arab Emirates and Intelsat. Both had a direct stake in the mission’s success.

Intelsat had a double interest: It owns nearly half the 60-plus Ku-band transponders on the DirecTV SkyB-1 satellite, and it plans to take ownership of Telkom’s aging Telkom-2 satellite, already in orbit, in June following Telkom-3S’s in-orbit checkout.

Yahsat is a third owner of SkyB-1, having purchased its 21-transponder Ka-band capacity to develop Yahsat’s broadband business in Brazil, which will be further buttressed with the launch of the Al Yah 3 satellite later this year, also on an Ariane 5.

Ariane 5: 77 in a row, and as important as ever in a fragile market

The Feb. 14 flight was the first of a planned seven Ariane 5 campaigns in 2017 and the rocket’s 77th consecutive success. With its two principal rivals, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Russia’s Proton, both struggling to return to full operations, the continued health of the Ariane 5 has become crucial to the commercial telecommunications satellite market.

If all its scheduled passengers are on time — never a sure thing — and its operations continue to go smoothly, Arianespace should be able to launch 10 more telecommunications satellites this year on five Ariane 5 missions.

The seventh Ariane 5 set for 2017 has been reserved for the launch of four European Galileo positioning, navigation an timing satellites, a launch delayed from this summer following failures of Galileo’s atomic clocks.

For Sky Brasil, a tripling of capacity; for Airbus, a new DirecTV order

Built by Airbus Defence and Space, SkyB-1 is designed to deliver 16 kilowatts of power to its payload. The exact Ku-band capacity on board was listed at 60 transponders, but it’s not clear if that is physical transponders or capacity divided into 36-megahertz equivalents.

Sky Brasil officials at the launch said SkyB-1 will increase their direct-broadcast television service’s in-orbit capacity from today’s 18 transponders to 60 transponders, a figure that suggests Intelsat will have the use of at least 18 SkyB-1 transponders.

Luis Otavio, director of transmission engineering at Sky Brasil, said the company will have the use of “up to” 48 transponders to broaden its services into high-definition television.

Duane Dier, SkyB-1 mission director at AT&T Entertainment Group, said the company’s in-orbit capacity would increase from 18 transponders to 60 transponders with the addition of SkyB-1. Died said Airbus delivered the satellite ahead of schedule.

AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV was thought to signal a pullback with respect to satellite commitments. But DirecTV in late 2016 ordered a DirecTV-16 satellite from Airbus, a contract that neither Airbus nor DirecTV has announced.

Arnaud de Rosnay, head of telecommunications satellites at Airbus Defence and Space, said after the launch that the company had begun work on a new satellite for DirecTV without naming or otherwise describing it.

As of Sept. 30, DirecTV Latin America had about 12.5 million satellite video subscribers. Sky Brasil accounted for 5.34 million of these subscribers. Both subscriber counts are flat from a year earlier.

Intelsat and DirecTV in August 2015 asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to register the satellite to DirecTV following “an innovative operational and ownership structure” to allow Intelsat to expand its HTS, or high-throughput-satellite, coverage while allowing DirecTV to serve its Brazilian television business.

DirecTV has long needed Intelsat to provide sufficient Ku-band capacity to develop the DirecTV Latin America brand. SkyB-1 will use frequencies licensed to the Intelsat 9 and Intelsat 11 satellites. The two companies said DirecTV would continue to use Intelsat 11 and integrate SkyB-1 into its service portfolio.

Intelsat 9, which is now stationed at 43.1 degrees west alongside Intelsat 11, will be retired or moved to another location, Intelsat said.

Indonesia’s PT Telkom gets a new satellite, sells old one to Intelsat

For PT Telkom, Telkom-3S, built by Thales Alenia Space and carrying 24 C-bad, 12 extended C-band and 13 Ku-band transponders, assures business continuity ahead of the scheduled 2020 or 2021 retirement of the Telkom-2 now at 118 degrees east. A Telkom-4 satellite, to be placed into orbit in 2018, is under construction by Space Systems/Loral. It will replace the Telkom-1 satellite at 108 degrees east.

Intelsat told the U.S. FCC on Jan. 24 that, through agreement with PT Telkom, the Telkom-2 satellite, in orbit for 11 years, will be moved to Intelsat’s 157 degrees east, where it will offer service continuity and additional capacity beyond Intelsat-5, currently at that slot.

Intelsat said the license would transfer to Intelsat and Intelsat would operate Telkom-2’s C-band payload until June 2021, after which — assuming the license remains with Intelsat — the satellite would be moved into a graveyard orbit above the geostationary arc.

Intelsat said itwould reserve 5.5 kilograms of fuel for the purpose of raising the orbit, as per guidelines of the IADC.

The loss of the Telkom-3 satellite in a Russian Proton rocket launch failure in August 2012 forced Telkom to scramble for substitute capacity. It was helped by the hypercompetitive, densely populated telecommunications satellite market of Southeast Asia.

Telkom has leased capacity from Intelsat, ABS, KT Sat of South Korea, Chinasat, Eutelsat, APT Satellite of Hong Kong and Sky Perfect JSat of Japan.

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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