ViaSat-2 Launch Contract Goes to SpaceX as Arianespace Sits out Competition

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PARIS — Those tracking head-to-head battles between Arianespace of Europe and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of the United States for commercial launch contracts will not be able to include SpaceX’s ViaSat-2 win.

Evry, France-based Arianespace declined to submit a bid for ViaSat-2 because Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat Inc. had stipulated a mid-2016 launch date, industry officials said.

Arianespace has said for months that its heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket is fully booked into 2017, with a couple of possible spots late in 2016. Ariane 5 typically launches two satellites at a time, a heavier payload in the upper berth and a lighter one in the lower position.

ViaSat-2, an all-Ka-band satellite built to add capacity to ViaSat’s consumer broadband service in North America, would be for Ariane 5’s upper position as it is expected to weigh about as much as ViaSat-1, which was 6,740 kilograms at launch.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX won the competition with a bid for its Falcon Heavy rocket, to be introduced in 2015, despite the company’s own crowded manifest.

ViaSat is bundling the SpaceX launch into a U.S. Export-Import Bank loan totaling some $525 million, which is expected to be finalized in the coming months.

It is not always easy to pinpoint victories and defeats in the commercial launch competitions. Customers often insist on conditions — a minimum number of previous launches to the same orbit, low-cost financing and other factors in addition to a specific launch date — before considering a launch services provider.