Orbital ATK ships tardy Al Yah 3 satellite for January launch

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Updated at 5:40 Eastern. 

WASHINGTON — Satellite manufacturer Orbital ATK on Nov. 28 shipped Yahsat’s long-awaited Al Yah 3 high-throughput satellite to French Guiana for an Ariane 5 launch now scheduled for January.

The hybrid satellite, equipped with a chemical propulsion system to reach orbit and electric thrusters for station-keeping once in place, slipped almost a year past its initial completion date, a delay Orbital ATK attributed to Al Yah 3 being the first of its kind.

Al Yah 3 is Orbital ATK’s first satellite built on GEOStar-3, the company’s new platform for satellites needing more power than what Orbital ATK spacecraft typically provide. As a high-throughput satellite, Al Yah 3 is also more complicated than a traditional telecommunications satellite. Al Yah 3 has 53 Ka-band spot beams for broadband and connectivity services split between Africa and Brazil.

Amer Khouri, Orbital ATK’s vice president of commercial satellite business, told SpaceNews Nov. 30 that Al Yah 3, weighing some 3,500 kilograms, is “the largest and most complicated [satellite] we have ever built.”

Orbital ATK typically builds smaller geostationary satellites than other manufacturers, priding itself on the ability to provide such satellites quicker than what it takes to build larger spacecraft. But the growing pains associated with scaling up to a heavier satellite were more than the company anticipated.  

“We certainly encountered some challenges here, but we are very proud of what we built, and are very confident that we are delivering a robust and very reliable satellite to the customer,” Khouri said.

Al Yah 3 is 11 months late, Khouri said, mainly because of the need to qualify new technology such as the larger power system and the new propulsion subsystem. Al Yah 3 has 7.5 kilowatts of power, up from a typical Orbital ATK satellite’s 5 kilowatts or less. The satellite was also customized to fit in Ariane 5’s lower berth for a less expensive mission.

“These challenges were because of first time qualification and testing. But going forward our original 27-month delivery for GEOStar-3s, we are very confident that we can deliver in 27 months or less,” he said.

Customers of Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 have stated that the satellite’s schedule slip complicated their businesses. Fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris said last month that it will not be able to generate meaningful revenue from a new business venture called Konnect Africa until 2018, because more than 75 percent of the capacity for that business is on Al Yah 3.

Network services provider Talia of London, which has a multimillion dollar capacity commitment on Al Yah 3, told SpaceNews the delay has “had a huge effect on our projected annual revenue and costs associated.”

“In some cases we had to offer Ku as [an] intermediate solution, which cost us much more,” said Alan Afrasiab, Talia president and chief executive.

The delays also forced launch provider Arianespace to juggle its schedule, pushing one of seven Ariane 5 missions planned for 2017 out to next year. SES-14 is the presumed co-passenger for Al Yah 3, taking the Ariane 5’s upper position.

Once in orbit, Al Yah 3’s footprint will cover an estimated 60 percent of Africa’s population and more than 95 percent of Brazil’s. Khouri said the chemical propulsion should lift the satellite to the geostationary arc in under a month.