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Ariane 5 launches triple satellite mission to geostationary transfer orbit

During a recent satellite communications conference in San Diego, the major discussion topic was how the U.S. military and industry can work more closely together for the benefit of both. It was the same basic dialogue that took place at this conference back in 2003, just as commercial satellites were gaining wide recognition for their prominent role in the U.S.-led war in Iraq, then in its first year. The two sides have made progress in some areas since then, but remain too far apart on the most fundamental issues.

TAMPA, Fla. — Arianespace launched Europe’s most advanced weather-tracking spacecraft Dec. 13 along with a pair of satellites Intelsat needs to clear C-band spectrum in the United States.

The triple payload totaling nearly 11,000 kilograms lifted off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern from Kourou, French Guiana, on a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket to geostationary transfer orbit.

Intelsat’s Galaxy 35 and Galaxy 36 satellites separated from the rocket about 30 minutes later, followed shortly by MTG-I1 for Eumetsat, Europe’s intergovernmental meteorological organization.

Intelsat and Eumetsat confirmed successful contact with their satellites post-launch and the deployment of solar panels.

The Maxar-built Galaxy 35 and Galaxy 36 are due to start services in March and February, respectively, after using onboard propulsion to reach their final positions in geostationary orbit. 

They are the fifth and sixth of seven satellites Intelsat has ordered to help clear C-band spectrum for terrestrial 5G services.

The operator is in line for nearly $5 billion in total from the Federal Communications Commission if it clears the frequencies by Dec. 5, 2023, although rival operator SES continues to challenge its share of this windfall.

SpaceX launched the first four satellites in Intelsat’s C-band clearing plan over two separate missions earlier this year. 

Intelsat 37, the final satellite in this spectrum-clearing strategy, is slated to launch in June on a dedicated SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Improving weather forecasts

MTG-I1 is the first of six satellites Thales Alenia Space and OHB are building for Eumetsat’s MTG (Meteosat Third Generation) constellation, which is set to be deployed over the next few decades to improve weather forecasts. 

The satellite carries Europe’s first instrument dedicated to mapping lightning flashes, developed by Leonardo in Italy, for tracking severe storms and how they evolve.

It also has a Flexible Combined Imager designed for imaging Europe and Africa every 10 minutes across 16 spectral channels.

Prime contractor Thales said it would take MTG-I1 around 11 days to get into position for unfurling its antennas to begin transferring weather data back to Earth.

The MTG constellation comprises four imaging (MTG-I) and two (MTG-S) sounding satellites that are identical in their series.

The MTG-I satellites also carry two smaller payloads to collect data from remote science and search and rescue emergency beacons.

Phil Evans, Eumetsat’s director general, detailed the organization’s long-term constellation deployment plans in an interview with SpaceNews last year.

Arianespace said it has now launched 14 satellites for Eumetsat and 64 for Intelsat.

The company has two more Ariane 5s remaining before the arrival of Europe’s delayed next-generation Ariane 6 rocket, which is currently slated to debut in 2023.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously,...