EchoStar expects Jan. 8 or 9 SpaceX launch, confronts Brazil and EU deadlines

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator EchoStar Corp. on Nov. 23 said its EchoStar 23 tri-band telecommunications satellite for Brazil is expected to launch Jan. 8 or Jan. 9 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The launch will follow the Falcon 9’s anticipated December launch, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, of 10 Iridium Communications satellites into low Earth orbit. The Iridium launch will mark SpaceX’s return to flight following the Sept. 1 explosion of a Falcon 9 as it was being fueled in advance of a static test fire.

Some time before the Iridium launch, SpaceX is expected to brief insurance underwriters on the root cause of the Sept. 1 failure, if one has been found, and on proposed corrective actions.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has tied the failure to a second-stage helium reservoir and the procedures used to fill it with super-chilled helium while filling the second-stage liquid-oxygen tank, in which the helium tank is immersed.

Industry officials have suggested that thermal stresses between the exterior of the helium tank, made of carbon composite; and the filling of the liquid oxygen reservoir could have caused the the helium composite over-wrapped pressure vessel to buckle, ripping through the liquid-oxygen tank and through the wall separating the liquid oxygen from the liquid kerosene fuel.

SpaceX officials have suggested that a change in procedure, rather than a change in the design of the helium tank, might be all that’s needed to prevent a recurrence of the failure.

EchoStar facing Brazilian regulatory deadline…

For Englewood, Colorado-based EchoStar, the EchoStar 23 launch cannot occur too soon. The satellite, carrying Ku-, Ka- and S-band capacity, will operate under a Brazilian government license that imposes a mid-2017 deadline for the start of service.

In a Nov. 8 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), EchoStar said it is confident of meeting the Brazilian deadline for Ku-band service, to provide direct-broadcast television in Brazil, but is less certain with respect to the Ka- and S-band services.

“We are exploring options for the Ka- and S-band spectrum,” EchoStar said. “We expect, however, that we will likely not meet our regulatory milestone for the S- and Ka-band. We have sought extensions of these two milestones and … may be subject to penalties.”

EchoStar on Nov. 23 told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the launch would occur on Jan. 8 or Jan. 9 and that the satellite will be tested at 86.4 degrees west longitude for three months before moving to its planned operating slot at 44.9 degrees west.

A mid-January launch with SpaceX would cap what looks to be an exceptionally busy period for EchoStar, with three satellites now being ready for launches in less than a four-week period.

The company’s EchoStar-19 Ka-band consumer broadband satellite, also known as Jupiter-2, is scheduled for launch on Dec. 15 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

… And a European Union deadline as well

On Dec. 22, an International Launch Services Russian Proton rocket is scheduled to launch the EchoStar-21 S-band mobile communications satellite for Europe from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will mark ILS Proton’s return to flight following a June anomaly that, while of no consequence for the satellite’s mission, forced Proton builder Khrunichev Space Center to ground the Proton to determine what happened.

Like EchoStar-23, EchoStar-21 is facing an imminent regulatory deadline. Under its European Union license, EchoStar is supposed to begin providing service in Europe in December. It is likely to take two months to complete in-orbit checkout of the satellite, meaning EchoStar will be at least two month late.

In a Nov. 8 conference call with investors, EchoStar Chief Executive Michael T. Dugan said the company has kept European Union and European national government officials apprised of the situation and does not expect to be overly punished for the delay.

“Everyone is aware of what our situation is and what has caused the delays,” Dugan said. “We don’t believe anyone is going to act unreasonably here.”

The other company operating under European Union license for mobile S-band services, Inmarsat of London, is also months behind schedule, in part due to launch delays.

EchoStar has never publicly detailed what kind of service it will provide in Europe from the EchoStar-21 spacecraft. In the Nov. 8 conference call, EchoStar Satellite Services President Anders Johnson said the company has begun initial production of a portable data terminal that can act as a WiFi hot spot in regions in Europe where terrestrial WiFi is not available.

EchoStar-19 was 162 gbps, now 220 gbps for consumer, aero markets

The EchoStar-19 Ka-band consumer broadband satellite will help EchoStar’s Hughes Network Systems division to continue growth of its business in North America, whose growth has been stalled because of a lack of satellite capacity.

In the conference call, Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul said EchoStar-19, which had been designed to provide 162 gigabits per second of throughput, will be able to generate 220 gigabits per second because of slight modifications to the satellite and the ground segment.

In addition to its consumer broadband offering in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America, EchoStar-19 will carry Hughes’s next-generation airline connectivity technology, designed to deliver more than 200 megabits per second to a given commercial aircraft.

Dual Ku-/Ka-band modem, antenna; unnamed Asian S-band deal

Hughes had designed a dual Ku-/Ka-band aeronautical broadband terminal, and a dual-mode antenna to work with it, to allow airline customers to move between Ku- and Ka-band satellite coverage on long-haul routes.

Hughes specializes in satellite ground networks and is the main ground hardware provider for the OneWeb global low-orbit satellite constellation for internet connectivity. Hughes has the right of first refusal of 50 percent of OneWeb’s capacity in the United States, Europe, Brazil and India for Hughes’s customer base.

“Our work with OneWeb is now in full swing,” Kaul said.

Kaul also said Hughes in October won a $69 million contract to provide “a large S-band satellite system in Asia,” which he declined to identify.