Tag Archives: SES

SES flips satellites between SpaceX and Arianespace launches

Capitalism in space: In order to accelerate the launch of a needed satellite, SES
to flip the satellites between contracted SpaceX and Arianespace launches.

Their ability to do this now demonstrates the wisdom of SES’s policy in the past decade of aggressively supporting SpaceX. The result is that the company now has a much greater flexibility in how it gets its satellites into orbit.

Posted as we drove through Bynum, Montana.

SES agrees to a second Falcon 9 launch with used first stage

Capitalism in space: SES has agreed to launch a second commercial satellite using a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage.

The launch of the SES 11 spacecraft, also named EchoStar 105, will be the third time SpaceX has sent a customer’s satellite into orbit with the help of a reused rocket stage. Industry officials said SES, EchoStar and SpaceX agreed in recent weeks to shift the satellite from an all-new rocket to one with a previously-flown first stage. The SES 11/EchoStar 105 satellite will likely ride a Falcon 9 first stage that first flew Feb. 19 with a Dragon supply ship heading for the International Space Station, one source said, but a firm assignment has not been confirmed. That vehicle returned to a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Liftoff from a Florida launch pad is scheduled no sooner than around Sept. 27, a couple of days after a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is set to haul a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency.

The most wonderful aspect of this is how routine it is steadily becoming.

Commercial communications satellite breaks apart in orbit

For reasons that are not clear, SES’s AMC-9 satellite, launched in 2003 and nearing the end of its 15 year design life, appeared on June 17 to suddenly break into at least two pieces.

The video at the link requires patience to watch, but it shows the satellite go from one bright spot to about two at around two minutes. These two spots then slowly drift apart.

SES financial report

In releasing its year-to-date and third quarter financial report (which showed significant growth), the satellite company SES also revealed that the launch of its SES-10 satellite will use a recovered Falcon 9 first stage, and that right now it is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2017.

First relaunch of Falcon 9 1st stage announced

The competition heats up: SpaceX and the Luxembourg satellite company SES today announced that the of SES 10 this fall will use one of the Falcon 9 first stages that has flown previously and been recovered. From the SES press release:

“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES. “This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”

I also like how they call the used first stage “flight-proven.” This story notes that the insurance cost for the launch weren’t raised either.

The exact date has not yet been set, but it will be in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Money for space

The competition heats up: Three stories today about investors putting money into different space related business ventures are worth consolidating into one post, as they all indicate the same thing.

The first story involves a takeover by SES of the O3b satellite constellation that provides internet service globally. They already have 12 satellites in orbit, and have plans to launch 8 more by 2019. A partial list of their customers (Digicel Pacific, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, American Samoa Telecom, Speedcast, Rignet, Bharti International (Airtel), Timor Telecom, CNT Ecuador, Entel Chile and NOAA) illustrates the solidity of the company’s success, which is also why SES is spending $20 million to own it.

In the second two stories we find investment capital being committed for two different and unusual space-tourism-related companies. World View plans to launch high altitude balloons with passengers, taking them up 20 to 30 miles for a several hour journey on the edge of space. That they have secured an additional $15 million in investment even as their deal with the city of Tucson is being challenged in court indicates the confidence the investors have in their business.

SpaceVR is even more interesting. They plan to launch smallsats with cameras providing a 360 degree view, and link them to virtual reality headsets here on Earth. Consumers will then be able to experience being in space, without actually going. Though the press release does not specific how the product will be sold, it suggests that they are aiming for the education and museum market.

All three stories prove that the modern investment community, normally very adverse to high risk endeavors, is increasingly finding that the financial benefits of space travel and anything related to it are worth the financial risks. This fact can only lead to good things for the eventual development and exploration of space.

Moreover, the third story once again demonstrates the value of reducing the cost to get into orbit. SpaceVR’s idea is a very good one, but it couldn’t have happened before SpaceX forced a reduction in launch prices. Beforehand, no one could have afforded to buy the product because of the high cost to launch the satellites. Now, because the launch price is affordable, it can be marketed at a realistic price.

In other words, lower the price, and you increase the number of customers able to buy your product. I expect the rocket business to boom in the coming years.

SpaceX to reduces chance of first stage recovery on SES-9 launch

In the heat of competition: Because of SpaceX’s delays in launching the SES-9 communications satellite, the company has modified the launch profile of its Falcon 9 rocket, abandoning a land vertical landing and reducing the odds for a successful barge landing, in order to get the satellite to its proper orbit sooner.

SES will thus be able to generate income from the satellite at about the same time it would have had their launch not been delayed. SpaceX meanwhile will still try to recover the first stage, but will face much more difficult odds.

One industry official familiar with the SES-9 mission said Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has not abandoned hope of recovering the first stage after a landing on an offshore platform positioned for the mission. But the chances of success are much less given the launch trajectory agreed to with SES to reduce the time to arrival at its operating position.

Next Falcon 9 launch date announced

In the heat of competition: SpaceX and SES have announced that they are aiming for a February 24 date for the launch of the SES-9 communications satellite.

This will be the second launch of the upgraded Falcon 9, delayed since December following that rocket’s first launch. That they have scheduled it means they have likely smoothed out the kinks detected on that first flight.

SpaceX delays its next launch

SpaceX has decided to delay its next launch for several additional months as it continues its investigation into the June Falcon 9 launch failure.

The next mission on SpaceX’s launch calendar had been a U.S. government ocean-monitoring satellite called Jason 3, but Shotwell indicated that a commercial communications satellite would move to the front of the line. Luxembourg-based SES SA has a contract to fly on the first Falcon 9 rocket that features an upgraded first-stage engine. The upgrade will allow SpaceX to attempt to land its rockets back at the launch site from high-altitude missions so they can be refurbished and reused.

They had originally hoped to return to flight in September. This is now probably delayed until November. However, that their next flight will include the upgraded Merlin engine and it will be a commercial flight means they will once again likely try for a vertical landing of that first stage. Moreover, SES has already said that if the landing is successful it wants to buy that first stage for a future launch. SES hopes to save money this way, while also encouraging innovation in the launch market which it sees as a long term gain for putting its payloads into orbit.

Falcon 9 landing barge replaced and upgraded

The competition heats up: SpaceX has replaced one of its automated first stage landing barges with an upgraded version.

With dimensions virtually identical to Marmac 300, she carries some new features, including a steel blast wall erected between the rear containers and the landing deck, in addition to the steel bow wall as previously seen on Marmac 300. Ongoing work visible on deck suggests that a second blast wall may be installed at the forward end of the landing deck as well.

The article also provides us a nice contrast between the government and the private sector. While a private company is now willing to buy a flight with a recovered first stage, even before a successful landing, the government is far more cautious:

According to Mr. Musk, officials have asked for “repeated, successful” demonstrations of a first stage landing on the drone ship before a landing attempt will be allowed at the Cape.

That the company has already demonstrated twice that the first stage can return very precisely to its target should have already satisfied these officials. Moreover, the landing site would be well secured and maintained by SpaceX, and they appear quite willing to bear any repair costs should the stage crash on that landing site.

SES wants to launch with a recovered Falcon 9 first stage

The competition heats up: Commercial satellite company SES has requested SpaceX that one of its satellites be the first to be launched with a recovered Falcon 9 first stage.

SES has seven satellites under construction, five of which are contracted for SpaceX launches, starting with SES-9. SES said it has been given a guarantee by SpaceX that the launch will occur no later than September. SES has agreed to allow SES-9 to be the first launch using an upgraded Falcon 9 main-stage Merlin 1D engine, whose performance is being increased to allow SpaceX to attempt first-stage recovery even on launches to geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most telecommunications satellites.

Just as it secured an attractive SpaceX price for the SES-8 by being one of the first established customers, SES now wants a cut-rate price on a Falcon 9 with a previously used first stage. “Our launch vehicle for SES-9 will be a recoverable vehicle,” Halliwell said. “We believe they will be able to recover it on this mission. We actually asked them: If we do recover it, can we use it again and get a good price discount? We’re still in discussions.”

In other words, if SpaceX is successful in landing the first stage after it puts SES-9 into orbit in September, they want first dibs, at a good price, of using that stage on a future SES launch.

SES’s willingness to do this changes my estimated time frame for the first successful reuse of a first stage. I had assumed that the commercial satellite companies would all be reluctant to put one of their payloads on a rocket using a recovered first stage, until they had seen at least one test flight of such a stage. SES proves this assumption wrong, to my delight.

The Falcon 9 rocket had an abort at launch today at 5:39 Eastern.

The Falcon 9 rocket had an abort at launch today at 5:39 Eastern.

The rocket is safe on the launchpad. They are assessing the situation. SpaceX has a remarkably good record of launching quickly and successfully after a launch abort, sometimes within an hour.

The countdown has been reset for a 6:44 pm Eastern launch, the latest they can in their launch window, and has resumed. You can watch it live here.

It appears that they have resumed the countdown, even as they continue to assess, so that if all is well they will be able to launch within their window. This means however they are not yet go for launch.

They now say they are go for launch, even as they assess. In addition, their customer, SES, has given them 20 more minutes on their launch window.

I just love how SpaceX seems to always have an abort-at-launch whenever I am free to watch. I think this is the fourth abort-at-launch nail-biter I have seen.

They have aborted the countdown again at T-48 seconds. They have also scrubbed for the day. It appears they had not completed their assessment of the original abort and decided to scrub. The next launch attempt date is not yet known.

The failure of the Falcon 9 upper stage prior to a final engine test on Sunday’s launch may delay the rocket’s next commercial launch.

The failure of the Falcon 9 upper stage prior to a final engine test on Sunday’s launch may delay the rocket’s next commercial launch.

SpaceX officials said after the Sept. 29 launch that the nonignition of the upper stage did not appear to be of a sort to delay the SES flight for very long. Feltes said SES is will hoping for a launch as soon as October, but added that if it slipped to November the company was willing to wait. The fact that SES will be awaiting details from SpaceX “does not mean that we reject the flight as a qualification flight,” Feltes said. “We still plan to be on the next Falcon flight, once SpaceX has solved the problem. But we need a technical explanation. We do need reignition of the stage for our satellite.”

The government shutdown also means that the Florida spaceport is presently unavailable for this launch (which is hardly a way to run a commercial operation). This fact makes it even more likely that SpaceX will eventually move all its commercial launches to its own spaceport, probably in Texas.

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.

Prices, Demand, and SpaceX

For the past three days there has been a very lively debate by readers of Behind the Black, attempting to figure out the actual cost of launching payload to low Earth orbit by various rockets, including SpaceX, the space shuttle, and the NASA-built Space Launch System.

Three stories published today add some new information to this debate.
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