Space

Sky Perfect JSAT picks SpaceX’s Starship for 2024 satellite launch

TAMPA, Fla. — Sky Perfect JSAT said Aug. 18 it has picked SpaceX’s Starship rocket to launch its Superbird-9 satellite in 2024.

The Japanese satellite operator said it signed a contract for a mission on the super-heavy-lift vehicle SpaceX is developing in Boca Chica, Texas, but offered no further details about the agreement.

“SKY Perfect JSAT and SpaceX will continue to work together ahead of the launch of Superbird-9 Satellite,” the operator said in the brief announcement.

It is one of the first contracts to be announced by a commercial satellite operator for a Starship launch.

AST SpaceMobile, the Texas-based cellphone-compatible broadband constellation startup, has an agreement with SpaceX that provides options for booking Falcon 9 or Starship launches until the end of 2024.

SpaceX has contracts with NASA to develop Starship to serve as a lander for crewed missions to the moon.

Starship, designed to carry 21 tons of payload to geostationary transfer orbit and more than 100 tons to low Earth orbit, is also set to play a critical role in launching a proposed second-generation of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites. 

Standing at 120 meters tall, SpaceX hopes to one day use the rocket to help colonize Mars. The company has plans for missions deeper into the solar system with Starships that can be refueled in a “parking orbit” around the Earth.

SpaceX has been conducting static fire tests of Starship’s Super Heavy first-stage booster as it prepares to conduct its first orbital flight test.

In June, the Federal Aviation Administration removed a roadblock in the way of Starship’s development when it finished reviewing the environmental impact of allowing SpaceX to launch from Boca Chica. 

However, SpaceX must first implement dozens of measures to mitigate environmental effects.

Airbus is building Superbird-9 for JSAT based on its reconfigurable payload platform OneSat, which has previously been used for satellites with a mass of around 3 metric tons.

That makes it likely Superbird-9 would launch with other passengers on its way to geostationary orbit.

Jarrod McLachlan, SpaceX’s director of rideshare sales, said Aug. 9 it is “working on the rideshare configuration and smallsat offerings for Starship,” although it was not ready to announce specific rideshare opportunities.

JSAT said it expects to start operations with Superbird-9 in 2025, when it will use the satellite’s steerable beams to deliver broadcast and broadband services primarily over Japan and Eastern Asia.

The operator has said it expects to invest 30 billion yen ($222 million) in the satellite project.

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