Tag Archives: Intelsat

Russia gets two contracts for Proton

The competition heats up: Russia has signed two new contracts using its newly announced Proton-Medium rocket configuration.

Both contracts are for the same launch. The primary payload will be a Intelsat communications satellite. The secondary payload will be Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), which is actually more significant and somewhat ground-breaking.

The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced. The vehicle itself has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and undockings during its life span. “Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities,” noted Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets.”

The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite. MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.

If MEV-1 proves successful, Orbital ATK will have built, launched, and made money from the first robot repair satellite. While at first glance this success suggests that satellite companies will need to launch fewer satellites, thus reducing the market demand for rockets, what it will really do is make the orbiting satellite more useful and profitable, thus encouraging new players to enter the market. The demand for satellites will increase, thus increasing the demand for rockets.

Ain’t freedom and private enterprise grand?

Orbital ATK to launch robotic servicing mission

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK has signed Intelsat to the first contract for a private robotic servicing mission to defunct commercial communications satellites.

Orbital ATK is offering the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), a spacecraft designed to rendezvous with a commercial satellite and dock to the nozzle of its apogee kick motor and surrounding adapter ring. The MEV would then take over propulsion and attitude control for the satellite, offering up to five years of extended life.

Intelsat has agreed to be the customer for the first MEV mission, named MEV-1 and scheduled for launch in 2018. MEV-1 will first dock with a retired satellite in a graveyard orbit above stationary orbit to test its systems, then dock with an active Intelsat satellite to extend its life for five years.

I like the concept. Unlike other much more complicated proposals, which propose to actually refuel the satellite’s original tank, this is simple, quick, and quite doable for relatively little developmental cost. Orbital ATK already as the technology to do the rendezvous, from its Cygnus freighter. All they need to refine is the specific technology to attach to the specific satellites.

Just two months after the failure of its second stage during launch, Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday.

The competition heats up: Just two months after the failure of its second stage during launch, Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday.

This quote, from this Space News article, also implies that there is increasing competitive pressure in the launch industry, which I attribute to the success of SpaceX’s Falcon 9:

Perhaps the most striking element of the launch is that Washington- and Luxembourg-based Intelsat agreed to proceed with it so soon after the August failure of the Proton Breeze-M upper stage. It has been common practice following previous Proton failures that a Russian government mission would be the customer on the return to flight. In this case, Intelsat and its insurance underwriters were sufficiently persuaded that Reston, Va.-based ILS and Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow had come to grips with the issue to agree to be the customer for the first flight after the failure.

Sea Launch successfully put an Intelsat communications satellite into orbit today from its floating launch platform in the Pacific.

The competition heats up: Sea Launch successfully put an Intelsat communications satellite into orbit today from its floating launch platform in the Pacific.

This is the company’s second successful launch since it was reorganized after bankruptcy.

From a past SpaceX critic: SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy could wipe its launch competition.

From a past SpaceX critic: SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy could wipe out its launch competition.

This announcement [of SpaceX’s deal with Intelsat] is an indication that SpaceX is now threatening the dominance of Arianespace and ILS in the commercial launch arena. If a Falcon 9 Heavy can carry two or more large GEO communications satellites for half the launch price of an Ariane 5 or Proton M booking, then this could spell the end of their commercial operations as going concerns. It is not only on the commercial front that SpaceX may dominate. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Heavy launch service promises to be less than half the cost of using equivalent Atlas and Delta rockets. So even the cosy launch provider-governmental relationships that previously benefited the likes of Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne could now be threatened.

As much of a fan of SpaceX as I am, and as much as I agree with the above statement, we must remember that Falcon Heavy is not yet built. Moreover, I suspect that the deal with Intelsat does not yet include any transfer of funds. SpaceX has a long way to go before any of this happens. Nonetheless, the company’s continued success very obviously is beginning to make its competitors nervous.

SpaceX has gotten its first contract, with Intelsat, for its not-yet-built Falcon Heavy rocket.

The competition heats up: SpaceX has gotten its first contract, with Intelsat, for its not-yet-built Falcon Heavy rocket.

The Falcon Heavy when completed will be the most powerful rocket since the Saturn 5. If SpaceX can get it funded through commercial contracts, it will end forever the need for government subsidies in the aerospace industry. Government as a customer will still exist, of course, but it will no longer be in charge.

A commercial project to refuel and repair communication satellites with an unmanned robot, recently killed due to lack of interest from the U.S. government, might get the needed additional funding from DARPA.

Back from the dead? A commercial project to refuel and repair communication satellites with an unmanned robot, recently killed due to lack of interest from the U.S. government, might get the needed additional funding from DARPA.

The satellite communications company Intelsat has backed out of a deal to have a robot refuel some of itsr orbiting satellites.

Bad news: The satellite communications company Intelsat has backed out of a deal to have a robot refuel some of its orbiting satellites.

Apparently Intelsat would rather rake in the cash by launching new satellites rather than take a risk at a new technology that could save its customers a lot of money.

Robot Gas Attendants Could Keep Old Satellites Chugging

Robot gas attendants could keep old satellites chugging.

MDA has a contract, and a good design. If they succeed in refueling an old communications satellite with a robot, it will be fundamentally change the launch industry. If satellites don’t have to be replaced as often, there will less need for launches, reducing the demand for rockets.

Lack of U.S. government interest in commercial refueling mission causes problems

A lack of U.S. government interest in a privately designed satellite refueling technology has caused the company to pull back its plans.

MDA had signed a contract with the communications satellite company Intelsat to refuel some of its orbiting satellites, but needed additional customers to make a go of it. It had hoped the U.S. Defense Department would show interest, but they have not.

This is exactly where the government should be investing its capital, and that it is not tells us a lot about the real lack of sincerity behind the Obama administration’s claims that it wants to encourage private space. I also suspect that the turf war with satellite companies and defense contractors helped discourage Defense Department interest.

Satellite Builders express contempt for MDA’s refueling plans for Intelsat

Sour grapes: Satellite builders express contempt for MDA’s refueling plans for Intelsat orbiting satellites.

No surprise here. If Intelsat can extend the life of its satellites, than it won’t have to buy them as often from these builders, something the builders clearly don’t want.

Intelsat signs MDA to perform in-space refueling of its communications satellites

Intelsat signs MDA to perform in-space refueling of its communications satellites.

The concept of refueling geosynchronous satellites has been lurking about the aerospace industry for years. According to this deal, we should see an actual mission in about five years.