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
5 ULA

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!