SpaceX completes two launches in three and a half hours; third launch scrubbed

And the beat goes on: Today SpaceX set a new marker for future launch companies, successfully launching twice from two different launchpads in Florida only three and a half hours apart, and then scrubbing a third launch due to weather on the opposite coast of the U.S. only a few hours after that.

First SpaceX launched a Eutelsat geosynchronous communications satellite, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral at 5:52 pm (Eastern). Its first stage completed its twelth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

A little more than three and a half hours later, at 9:30 pm (Eastern), SpaceX launched 23 Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from its second launchpad at Cape Canaveral. The first stage completed its eighteenth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

Finally, the third launch planned for the day, of another 22 Starlink satelites, was scrubbed at Vandenberg in California at about 10:30 pm (Pacific), or 1:30 am (Eastern) due to weather, despite multiple launch attempts during its two hour launch window. The flight will likely be rescheduled for sometime in the next few days.

No private company has ever attempted such a thing before, and only the Soviet Union might have done it during the height of its launch industry from 1970 to 1988, when it routinely launched between 80 and 100 times per year. Whether it ever did three launches in under nine hours however is not likely.

Even though only two of the three launches took off, what SpaceX tried to do today provides a further illustration of the company’s effort to make rocket launches as routine as airplane travel. It now launches at a pace and reliability that is unprecedented since the dawn of the space age, and was for decades considered by experts impossible. So much for experts. It always pays to ignore them when they tell you something is impossible.

The leaders in the 2024 space race:

32 SpaceX
13 China
4 Rocket Lab
4 Russia

American private enterprise now leads the entire world combined in successful launches 37 to 23, and SpaceX by itself leads everyone one else combined 32 to 28.

Eutelsat-OneWeb gets license approval in India

Less than two weeks after SpaceX obtained regulatory approval to offer its Starlink system in India, Eutelsat-OneWeb (newly merged) has now gotten its own approval.

Eutelsat-OneWeb is half owned by an Indian investment firm, so it is no surprise it obtained this approval soon after SpaceX. The two companies will now be competing aggressively for business in this giant country, whose technological capabilities has been renewed in recent years by the abandonment of a socialist/communist government for a leadership focused on encouraging freedom, capitalism, and competition.

France orders Eutelsat to stop broadcasting Russian channels

Arcom, the French television regulation agency, yesterday ordered the communication satellite company Eutelsat to stop allowing three Russian channels from broadcasting using the satellites.

In a news release, Arcom said the television stations’ coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine “include repeated incitement to hatred and violence and numerous shortcomings to the honesty of the information.” Eutelsat said in a brief statement that “it will no longer be involved in the broadcasting of the three sanctioned channels within the prescribed time-frame.”

Arcom’s decision comes a week after France’s top administrative court, prompted by a request from the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders advocacy group, ordered Arcom to review an initial decision to permit Eutelsat to continue carrying the stations.

Arcom’s claim, that it made this order because of the content of the broadcasts, is another example of the blacklisting/censorship culture we now live in. The French regulators could have simply stated that, as an ally of the Ukraine in the Russian-Ukraine war, it does not want French-regulated satellites to provide aid to the Russian side. There is a war going on, and this alone is a rational reason to block the Russian channels.

Instead, Arcom uses censorship as its justification. It doesn’t like what the Russians are saying, and therefore has the right to censor them. Remember this argument, because in the future Arcom will likely use it again, but next time against any one of the other broadcast channels under its control that simply says something it doesn’t like.

SpaceX successfully launches communications satellite for Eutelsat

SpaceX tonight successfully launched a geosynchronous communications satellite for Eutelsat. This was the third launch that SpaceX has done for this European company, which previously had traditionally been launched by Arianespace. Because of the delays and higher cost to use Arianespace’s new Ariane 6 rocket, the company chose to go with SpaceX instead.

The first stage, which had flown ten times previously, successfully completed its eleventh flight, but was not recovered because all of its fuel was needed to get the satellite to its proper orbit.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

53 SpaceX
52 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 77 to 52 in the national rankings, but trails the rest of the world combined 80 to 77.

Arianespace’s Ariane-5 rocket launches communications satellite

Arianespace today used its Ariane-5 rocket, launching from French Guiana, to successfully place a Eutelsat communications satellite into orbit.

This was the fourth successful launch this year for Arianespace, so Europe still does not make the leader board. The company had predicted it would launch eleven times in 2022. At this moment it appears very questionable it will be able to match that prediction.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

40 SpaceX
36 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 55 to 36 in the national rankings, but is now tied with the entire world combined 55 to 55.

OneWeb and Eutelsat sign merger deal

Capitalism in space: OneWeb and Eutelsat today confirmed stories during the past few days to announce today that the two companies have signed a merger agreement.

Eutelsat Communications (Euronext Paris: ETL) and key OneWeb shareholders have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the objective of creating a leading global player in Connectivity through the combination of both companies in an all-share transaction. Eutelsat will combine its 36-strong fleet of GEO satellites with OneWeb’s constellation of 648 Low Earth Orbit satellites, of which 428 are currently in orbit.

The deal still needs regulatory approval, but if this is granted it should be finalized by the first half of ’23.

OneWeb and Eutelsat negotiating possible merger

In a press release today the geosynchronous (GEO) communications satellite company Eutelsat revealed that it is negotiating a possible merger with the low Earth orbit (LEO) communications satellite company OneWeb.

The combined entity would be the first multi-orbit satellite operator offering integrated GEO and LEO solutions and would be uniquely positioned to address a booming ~$16bn (2030) Satellite Connectivity market. OneWeb is one of the two only global LEO networks and has experienced strong momentum over recent months, with service expected to be fully deployed in 2023.

The transaction would represent a logical next step in the successful partnership between Eutelsat and OneWeb, started with Eutelsat’s equity investment in OneWeb in April 2021 and deepened with the Global Distribution Agreement announced in March 2022. Eutelsat currently holds 23% of OneWeb’s share capital, alongside a consortium of high-profile public and private investors.

Under the terms of the transaction being discussed, Eutelsat and OneWeb shareholders would each hold 50% of the combined group’s shares. [emphasis mine]

This appears to be an attempt by Eutelsat to survive, since the future of geosynchronous communications satellites is presently very questionable with the arrival of the many LEO satellite constellations like OneWeb and Starlink.

Meanwhile, the highlighted words in the quote do not match reality. If anything OneWeb has stalled badly since February, when Russia invaded the Ukraine and cancelled the remaining half dozen or so scheduled OneWeb launches. OneWeb has announced new launch contracts with SpaceX and India, but because none have even been scheduled, it increasingly appears its constellation will not be operational by 2023.

Ariane 6 gets first commercial contract

Capitalism in space? Arianespace yesterday signed its first commercial contract for its new rocket, Ariane 6.

The Sept. 10 contract is Arianespace’s first with a commercial satellite operator for Ariane 6, and brings to eight the number of Ariane 6 missions on the company’s manifest, assuming none of the Eutelsat satellites are dual-manifested on the same rocket.

Eutelsat executives have suggested for years that the company was willing to be first in line to embrace Ariane 6, including most recently in June 2017 when the company signed a three-launch agreement for Ariane 5 missions.

Eutelsat spokesperson Marie-Sophie Ecuer told SpaceNews by email that the multi-launch agreement came with “attractive terms” that are “fully aligned with our objective to significantly reduce launch cost,” but declined to say if the company received a discount. To woo customers, SpaceX offered discounts of around $10 million to launch on the first Falcon 9 rockets to use previously flown first-stage boosters.

I question the private nature of this deal, in that Eutelsat is a European company with many legal ties to the European Union. Since all reports I’ve seen suggest that Ariane 6 is not going to be as cheap as SpaceX’s rockets, I wonder if some political pressure has been applied to Eutelsat to sign this contract.

Overall, it increasingly appears to me that Ariane 6 will not get much business outside of Europe because of its cost. Much like Russia, Europe is giving up on its commercial international market share, mainly because it can’t or won’t compete with the newer American companies.

Blue Origin gets its first orbital customer

The competition heats up: Blue Origin today announced its first orbital contract for its New Glenn rocket, planned for a 2021 launch at the earliest.

The contract is with Eutelsat, which probably gets a bargain basement price for being New Glenn’s first paying customer. The rocket will also land its first stage vertically, on a barge, for reuse, just as SpaceX does with its Falcon 9.

New Glenn will be a big and very powerful rocket, capable of putting 45 tons into low Earth orbit, only slightly less than SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

Eutelsat signs a multi-launch Proton rocket deal

The competition heats up: Satellite maker Eutelsat has signed a seven year multi-launch deal with International Launch Services (ILS) using the Proton rocket.

The ILS press release does not state how many launches this contract covers, which makes me suspect that ILS was forced due to competition with SpaceX to give Eutelsat a great deal of flexibility about which launcher it uses with each satellite down the road. The ILS release even admits this. ““With their selection of ILS Proton for this Multi-Launch Agreement Eutelsat has made a clear statement that flexibility and schedule assurance are key discriminators.”

This is still a good thing for the Russians, as it insures them a share in the launch market for almost the next decade.

Facebook to provide internet access to Africa

The competition heats up: Using an Israeli communications satellite built by the European satellite company Eutelsat and slated to be launched by SpaceX in 2016, Facebook will provide internet service to the African continent.

Under a partnership announced Monday, Facebook and European satellite operator Eutelsat will buy all of the broadband capacity on the AMOS-6 satellite owned by Israeli company Spacecom. The mission has no confirmed launch date, with SpaceX still recovering from a Falcon 9 launch failure in June, but the partners expect the satellite to begin service in the second half of 2016, according to a press release.

What I like about this is the number of companies involved, all trying to make money, with Facebook the newcomer to the space industry. And the more the merrier, I say!