Another Falcon Heavy customer switches to different rocket

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The competition heats up: Afraid of more delays in SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, Inmarsat has booked a Russian Proton rocket for a 2017 commercial satellite launch.

London-based Inmarsat is the second Falcon Heavy commercial customer to have sought a Plan B given the continued uncertainties in the launch schedule of Falcon Heavy, whose inaugural flight has been repeatedly delayed. Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat Inc. in February moved its ViaSat-2 consumer broadband satellite from the Falcon Heavy to Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket for an April 2017 launch, securing what may be launch-service provider Arianespace’s last 2017 slot for a heavy satellite.


  • Local Fluff

    How does it work to switch from a launcher to one with about only half the lifting capacity? Did they intend to launch two satellites at the same time with that FH? Hard to see how they could trim a satellite by tens of tons to fit on a smaller launcher.

    F9 won’t get a reusable upper stage. And Falcon Heavy will not have (or at least not start out with) cross feeding, i.e. the three boosters sharing fuel with each other, which in principle was a very good concept. This I think I’ve heard the Musk say online, and motivating it with SpaceX now going for the Mars project instead of evolving the Falcon systems. Falcon Heavy doesn’t seem to be a big deal for SpaceX, or so they make the impression. Maybe they are hiding serious technical problems. I don’t really understand what market the FH would have. Too big for single satellites, too small for human spaceflight. It takes a brave customer to design a billion dollar satellite which can only be launched on the FH.

  • mkent

    EuropaSat / HellasSat 3 is a Spacebus 4000 platform massing 5700 kg, too heavy for a Falcon 9 (4,850 to 5,270 kg) to put into GTO. However, a Proton (6,700 kg) will launch it to GTO just fine. A Falcon Heavy is actually overkill. Presumably SpaceX gave the early adopters of the Falcon Heavy a deal to go with the new rocket, but after a while that no longer offsets the revenue loss sitting on the ground waiting for a ride.

  • > Too big for single satellites, too small for human spaceflight.

    Other launchers launch multiple satellites and Falcon Heavy could do the same. Two FH payloads docked together at LEO could put up nearly the same mass as the Saturn V. Also, a single, upper-end FH could deliver a lunar lander to LEO that, with a large drop tank, could place about 7.5 tonnes on the lunar surface. That would be enough for the lander, power systems, and an ice harvester. Once lunar polar ice was harvested in sufficient quantities and electrolyzed to propellant, that lunar lander could be refueled and so, between a new FH launch and the lander shuttling between the lunar surface and EML1/2, it could support rather low-cost crewed missions to build up a permanent lunar polar base.

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