PARIS – Orders for geostationary satellites are beginning to rebound in a market that is far more varied than in the past, said Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israel.
Of the 11 geostationary satellites ordered industry-wide in 2019, nine rely on electric propulsion. The satellite masses range from 300 kilograms for Astranis, a startup planning to provide internet links via satellite, to ViaSat-3 weighing in at 6,500 kilograms, Israel told reporters in a Sept. 9 briefing at the World Satellite Business Week conference here.
In addition, Inmarsat announced plans in May to buy three GX Flex satellites from Airbus. The reprogrammable, 3,000-kilogram GX Flex satellites are small enough to share a ride into orbit.
“We see the dominance of electric propulsion, a very large breadth of masses and the possibility of aggregating these satellites with the platform,” Israel said.
Arianespace has booked nine contracts since Jan. 1 2019: two contracts apiece for Ariane 5, Ariane 6 and Soyuz plus three Vega contracts. Arianespace also announced plans this year to move the planned launch of the ViaSat-3 communications satellite from an Ariane 5 to an Ariane 6 rocket.
In 2019, OneWeb signed on for the first flight of the Ariane 6 rocket. Satellite broadband company Ovzon announced plans to switch from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5 for its Ovzon-3 satellite. Arianespace also announced that a customer, whose name it cannot disclose, chose Ariane 5 for a 2021 flight.
ESA picked Arianespace to launch the JUpiter ICy moon Explorer (JUICE) aboard the Ariane 64, the inaugural flight of the Ariane 6 with four strap-on boosters. There is a possibility that mission could launch on Ariane 5 if necessary to accommodate its launch schedule, Israel said.
Japanese synthetic aperture radar startup Synspective, the European Space Agency and Canada’s exactEarth purchased Vega rides. ESA bought the Vega launch for Spain’s Center for the Development of Industrial Technology’s SEOSat/Ingenio optical Earth observation satellite. Vessel tracking startup exactEarth joined the Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service mission, claiming the last available slot on the 2022 rideshare for its 110-kilogram ESAIL, Israel said.
Arianespace signed contracts in 2019 to fly auxiliary payloads on Soyuz for Open Cosmos, a British startup that builds and operates cubesats for customers, and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a subsidiary of Terran Orbital Corp. Those auxiliary payload missions “should leave very quickly,” Israel said.
Arianespace is optimistic it will soon resume launching Vega rockets in the wake of the failed July launch of the United Arab Emirate’s Falcon Eye-1 optical imaging satellite. Arianespace and ESA announced earlier this month that the most likely cause of the failure was “structural degradation of the front dome of the Zefiro-23″ second stage, Israel said.
“The commission will continue the investigation to identify the root cause of this phenomenon,” Israel said. The problem is “localized enough” for Vega manufacturer Avio and Arianespace to plan and begin taking corrective actions that will allow Vega to return to flight during the first quarter of 2020, he added.
Vega flew 14 successful missions since its 2012 debut, which means “the overall design of this launcher is extremely robust,” Israel said.
Arianespace has eight missions on the Ariane 6 manifest and 11 missions planned for Ariane 5, Israel said. “The Ariane 6 manifest is now extremely full until mid-2022,” he added.
Because of its full manifest, Arianespace was unable to offer SES launch capacity in 2021 for its next generation of medium Earth orbit satellites, mPOWER. SES announced plans Sept. 9 to fly mPOWER satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Arianespace launched the 20 satellites in the SES O3B constellation.
It was important to SES to launch in 2021, Israel said. Given Arianespace’s full manifest, it was difficult “to offer the guarantee they were asking for,” he added.
Still, Arianespace may launch future satellites for SES.
Ariane 6 direct-injection capabilities could benefit SES, Israel said. “Let’s hope that sometime in the future we will have more opportunities to offer them something interesting,” he added.
Currently, Arianespace’s has 52 launch on its books for 37 customers. The company’s manifest includes 11 orders for Ariane 5, eight for Ariane 6, 24 for Soyuz and nine for Vega and Vega C.
Arianespace has conducted seven launches to date in 2019. The company plans to launch as many as four additional satellites on Ariane 5 and Soyuz this year. Arianespace subsidiary Starsem is scheduled to perform OneWeb’s second launch in November or December from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome.
In 2020, Arianespace plans to conduct the inaugural launches of Ariane C and Vega C, Israel said.