Tag Archives: Inmarsat

Another Falcon Heavy customer switches to different rocket

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.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket gets a customer

The competition heats up: The commercial satellite company Inmarsat has booked SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket for one firm launch and two additional options.

The firm contract is for the launch, scheduled perhaps aggressively for late 2016, of a satellite being built for both Inmarsat and Arabsat of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Arabsat will use the satellite for conventional telecommunications services for its wholly owned Hellas-Sat fleet operator of Greece. The Inmarsat payload uses S-band to provide mobile communications in Europe as part of a satellite-terrestrial broadband network, which is a new business line for Inmarsat.

Inmarsat’s launch contract is for a rocket that has not even yet been tested once, which tells us something about the faith they have in SpaceX. While I would be shocked if they didn’t have an option to pull out should there be significant delays or problems in launching Falcon Heavy, that they are willing to commit to it now is a convincing endorsement of SpaceX.

With Proton rocket’s most recent launch failure, Inmarsat looks for alternatives.

The competition heats up: With Proton rocket’s most recent launch failure, Inmarsat looks for alternatives.

The failure and its spectacular nature, all caught on video — oscillating trajectory on liftoff before tipping over, bursting into flames and then crashing — cast a harsh light on Inmarsat’s sole-source decision for the Global Xpress satellites. The company’s stock tumbled on the London Stock Exchange but has since recovered as details emerged about the relatively easily addressed causes of the rocket’s failure.

Inmarsat officials said at the time of the ILS contract award that they received an exceptionally low price in return for booking all three launches on Proton and that the vehicle’s record justified the choice not to include a second vehicle in the Global Xpress mix.

This week’s launch failure of the Proton rocket leaves two satellite communications firms in a quandary.

The competition heats up: This week’s launch failure of the Proton rocket leaves two satellite communications firms in a quandary.

Luxembourg-based SES joins London-based Inmarsat among the commercial customers awaiting Proton launches later this year, a prospect that almost certainly disappeared in the fireball that engulfed Proton shortly after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Inmarsat’s entire next-generation high-speed mobile communications product offer is booked on three Proton launches.

It appears that their only other launch options are Arianespace, which is booked up, and SpaceX, which is not yet ready to take on this much new business.

In other words, the launch industry has a need for more launchers from companies willing to compete for that business.

Update: Arianespace has said that if they get the orders quickly, they might be able to fit the launch’s into their 2014 launch manifest. That has the sound of a company that wants to make money, and is willing to do whatever it takes to capture the business.