SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket has yet to earn the necessary certification to launch U.S. national security missions, had given strong indications of interest in launching the NRO mission but never confirmed that it actually bid. Credit: SpaceX

PARIS — Indonesian satellite operator PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), after waiting a year for satellite builder Boeing to find a companion customer for a two-satellite contract for all-electric satellites to launch on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, on Nov. 19 said it had contracted with Space Systems/Loral (SSL) for the satellite.

In a joint statement, Jakarta-based PSN and SSL of Palo Alto, California, said the PSN 6 satellite will be launched in early 2017 aboard a rocket that SSL provided as part of the contract to operate at 146 degrees east in geostationary orbit.

One industry official said SSL is providing a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch. It was not immediately clear whether the launch would carry a second payload.

The SSL contract is one of several ordered by Indonesian government and corporate operators in the past year. Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Virginia, is building a satellite for PT Indosat that is intended for the same orbital slot, 150.5 degrees east, as a satellite under construction by SSL for Indonesia’s BRI bank.

Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy is building PT Telkom’s Telkom 3S satellite, and PT Telkom has been weighing a decision on still another spacecraft, Telkom 4.

“Indonesia keeps you on your toes,” one industry official said, referring to Indonesia’s highly active, and complicated, satellite purchasing process.

El Segundo, California-based Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems had been trying to replicate with PSN what it achieved in early 2012 with two satellite operators, ABS of Bermuda and Satmex of Mexico, now renamed Eutelsat Americas and owned by Eutelsat of Paris.

The first of these two launches is scheduled to occur between January and March.

ABS and Eutelsat Americas each ordered two all-electric-propulsion satellites to ride in pairs on the Falcon 9 rocket built by Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

PSN wanted the same kind of deal, a way of keeping capital costs down given SpaceX’s already low prices and the fact that sharing a launch with a co-passenger could mean a PSN 6 launch for less than $35 million.

Boeing officials could not be reached for immediate comment, but industry officials have said since the breakthrough Boeing contract in 2012 that it is not easy finding two customers whose spending plans are so closely aligned as to permit dual construction contracts and common launch dates.

Boeing officials have said one reason the company has not been able to repeat the two-satellite performance since 2012 is that some operators are waiting to see the new 702SP all-electric platform perform in orbit.

Replacing chemical propulsion with electric saves hundreds of kilograms in satellite launch weight, meaning potentially lower costs and, in the case of ABS and Eutelsat Americas, the ability to ride together on a Falcon 9.

The disadvantage of electric propulsion is that it takes months for its electric motors to power the satellite to final geostationary orbit, rather than a couple of weeks with chemical propulsion.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.