Updated at 3:01 p.m. EDT

PARIS — Satellite fleet operator SES, which in December launched the first geostationary-orbiting satellite on Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rocket, has selected that vehicle to launch two larger geostationary satellites in 2015 and 2016.

On Feb. 20. SES said its 5,300-kilogram SES-10 satellite would launch atop a Falcon 9, whose performance has apparently improved, in 2016. After early confusion about which rocket would be used — the Falcon 9 or the Falcon Heavy, still in development — SES said the satellite would be launched aboard the Falcon 9.

SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin said Feb. 20 that the Falcon 9 is capable of placing a 5,300-kilogram satellite into geostationary orbit. The vehicle’s advertised capacity ceiling of 4,850 kilograms does not include a 450-kilogram reserve that SpaceX has kept for its own purposes.

On Feb. 21, SES disclosed that it has purchased an additional launch from SpaceX, this one for the SES-9 satellite scheduled for launch in the first half of 2015.

SES said this Boeing-built spacecraft is expected to weigh 5,330 kilograms at launch and will be placed into a “sub-synchronous” transfer orbit by Falcon 9.

SES-10 will be built by Airbus Defence and Space and will operate at 67 degrees west, an orbital slot SES gained access to from the Andean Community of Nations in an unusual arrangement with satellite slot and frequency regulators at the International Telecommunication Union. 

The satellite network for regulatory purposes is known as the Simon Bolivar 2 network.

SES has been providing service from this orbital position since 2010 aboard aging satellites that were moved from their original positions when new spacecraft took their place while waiting for the business case to launch a new satellite there.

SES-10 will carry 50 Ku-band transponders on the Airbus Defence and Space Eurostar E3000 satellite frame. It is expected to deliver 13 kilowatts of power to the payload at the end of a service life of more than 15 years.

SES and Airbus Defence and Space said the satellite would employ chemical propulsion to raise its orbit from the Falcon 9’s drop-off point to final geostationary location, and electric propulsion to maintain itself stably in orbit once at its operating position.

SES became SpaceX’s first mission to geostationary transfer orbit — where most telecommunications satellites operate — in December. The Falcon 9 v1.1 successfully placed the 3,138-kilogram SES-8 into geostationary transfer orbit.


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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews.