SpaceX Launches First of Two Satellites for AsiaSat

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PONTE VEDRA, Florida — A Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Falcon 9 rocket on Aug. 5 successfully placed the AsiaSat 8 commercial telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, with owner AsiaSat declaring the satellite healthy in orbit and sending signals within an hour of launch.

Hong Kong-based AsiaSat will deploy AsiaSat 8 to 105.5 degrees east over the Asia-Pacific region, where it will be co-located with the AsiaSat 7 satellite already there.

AsiaSat 8, built by Space Systems/Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, California, using SSL’s 1300 satellite frame, carries 24 54-megahertz Ku-band transponders using four regional beams over India, China, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

AsiaSat said bandwidth can be switched between beams to adjust to market demand among the four target Ku-band markets.

A widebeam Ka-band payload is also onboard for broadband services in the region. The satellite, which weighed about 4,500 kilograms at launch, is designed to provide 8.5 kilowatts of power to the payload at the end of its 15-year service life.

The launch, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, was the fourth of 2014 for Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, whose manifest includes at least four more launches before the end of the year including the AsiaSat 6 satellite, a near-twin of AsiaSat 8, scheduled later this summer.

The Aug. 5 launch was delayed for several hours as SpaceX teams worked on an unexplained issue with the rocket’s first stage, but they were able to get it resolved before the day’s launch window closed.

The AsiaSat contracts with SpaceX highlight both the difficulty in securing on-time launches in today’s market and the striking effect of SpaceX pricing on that market.

AsiaSat booked its two SpaceX Falcon 9 launches in February 2012 for a price of $52.2 million per satellite. As it became clear that SpaceX was challenged in meeting its launch schedule, AsiaSat sought a backup in International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, which commercializes Russia’s Proton rocket.

The cost of the backup on Proton: $107 million — double the SpaceX price.

Under the AsiaSat contract with SpaceX, the launches of AsiaSat 8 and AsiaSat 6 were supposed to occur between March and May 2014, making AsiaSat 8 five months late and AsiaSat 8 at least three months late — if it lifts off on a Falcon 9 in August.

But since the ILS Proton contract was signed, Proton has encountered launch failures, the latest in May, that have created bottlenecks in its own commercial manifest and made it unavailable for AsiaSat in the March-May 2014 time slot.