SpaceX launches Eutelsat 10B on expendable Falcon 9

Science

TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX overcame a bleak weather forecast to launch a satellite Nov. 22 that expands Eutelsat further into fast-growing markets for providing broadband to planes and ships.

A Falcon 9 carrying the Eutelsat 10B satellite lifted off 9:47 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, during a window that had been given a probability of just 10% to be go for launch. 

The mission was delayed from Nov. 21 to give SpaceX more time to conduct “additional pre-flight checkouts.”

SpaceX used an expendable version of the Falcon 9 to send Eutelsat 10B to a high-energy supersynchronous transfer orbit, which should shorten the time it takes the all-electric satellite to reach its final geostationary position with its own thrusters.

The trajectory shaves 10 days off the satellite’s five-to-six-month journey compared to a more typical launch to an apogee below geostationary orbit (GEO), according to Sandrine Bielecki, spokesperson for Eutelsat 10B builder Thales Alenia Space.

The faster route follows production issues that have delayed plans to bring Eutelsat 10B into service in the first half of 2023.

Eutelsat did not say whether it paid SpaceX more for a Falcon 9 that did not reserve fuel its booster needed to land on a drone ship post-launch for reuse.

Intelsat paid a premium to use an expendable Falcon 9 to give a pair of satellites an extra boost Nov. 12 on their way to their final GEO destinations.

SpaceX’s booster splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after launching Eutelsat 10B in its eleventh mission. It was SpaceX’s oldest active booster and had previously supported missions for Telesat, Iridium, and SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation.

Based on Thales Alenia Space’s Spacebus NEO platform, Eutelsat 10B has about 35 gigabits per second of capacity across its high-throughput payloads.

Eutelsat 10B is slated to deliver Ku-band services for aviation and maritime customers in high-traffic areas across Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean.

The satellite also carries two C- and Ku-band payloads to replace TV broadcast services provided by Eutelsat 10A at 10 degrees East, which is due to reach the end of its operational life at the end of 2023.

Eutelsat’s broadcast business brings in about 59% of the company’s revenues but has gradually declined amid shifting consumer trends.

The GEO operator has set its sights on serving connectivity markets as a source for future growth, and is in the middle of merging with low Earth orbit broadband operator OneWeb to bolster this strategy.

The aviation and maritime connectivity markets promise significant growth opportunities for satellite operators able to meet growing demand from passengers for improved connectivity services.

Eutelsat said Nov. 23 it has already secured multi-year capacity commitments from “several leading in-flight connectivity service providers” for more than a third of Eutelsat 10B’s high throughput capacity.

In September, Arianespace launched the Konnect VHTS satellite for Eutelsat to provide 500 gigabits per second of Ka-band throughput to European broadband markets.  

Konnect VHTS (Very High Throughput Satellite) was also caught up in Thales Alenia Space’s production delays. Eutelsat said in February that Konnect VHTS is slated to enter service in the second half of 2023 instead of the first. Bringing Konnect VHTS and Eutelsat 10B online slower than planned would have “a mechanical impact” on its revenue projections for “subsequent years,” the operator said.

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