EchoStar Taps ILS To Launch Very Large Communications Satellite

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PARIS — EchoStar, after leaving long-time supplier International Launch Services (ILS) for Europe’s Arianespace consortium for a multilaunch deal, is returning to ILS for the launch of a communications satellite that, at more than 6,900 kilograms, might be the heaviest commercial spacecraft to date.

Reston, Va.-based ILS announced May 13 that it had signed a launch contract with Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar for the launch of the unnamed satellite in late 2015 or early 2016.

An industry official said the satellite in question might be the TerreStar-2 mobile communications satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif. The twin TerreStar-1 was launched in 2009 as a solo passenger aboard Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket and weighed in at 6,910 kilograms.

U.S. satellite television broadcaster Dish Networks, which like EchoStar is majority-owned by Charles Ergen, purchased TerreStar Networks out of bankruptcy in 2011 and also purchased DBSD, which launched a competing S-band satellite into orbit before it too declared bankruptcy.

Dish plans to develop a hybrid satellite-terrestrial wireless broadband service in the United States. The Dish effort in recent months has been helped by the regulatory roadblocks encountered by LightSquared, which had planned a mobile network before running into opposition from users of the U.S. GPS positioning, navigation and timing satellite network. LightSquared operates in L-band.

Dish has told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that its S-band satellites do not interfere with GPS signals.

The FCC and Dish have been negotiating when Dish would need to launch a backup satellite to meet its U.S. license requirements. Dish has argued that by purchasing both TerreStar and DBSD, both of which had a satellite in orbit, it should not be required to launch another satellite because each could serve as a backup to the other.

The DBSD-G1 satellite was launched in 2008.