BREMEN, Germany — Arianespace has secured a contract with Australian operator SingTel Optus to launch the Optus-11 communications satellite using the new Ariane 6 in 2023.

The Optus-11 Ku-band communications satellite is set to launch in the second half of 2023 to provide services to the Australia and New Zealand zone. The satellite incorporates a number of advanced technologies, especially the latest developments in digital processing and active antennas enabling the creation of several thousand beams, according to the ArianeSpace press announcement.

The satellite will expand the capacity of the operator’s current geostationary orbit constellation and make it the largest constellation ever deployed by an Australian company.

“We are delighted and honored by this renewed mark of confidence from the operator SingTel Optus,” noted Stéphane Israël, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace.  “Over the last 21 years, we have carried out all launches for Optus, and Ariane 6 will now continue this long and successful track record.” 

“A vital element to the successful deployment of a new satellite are the partners that we work with. We are delighted to be partnering again with Arianespace, who’s demonstrated over many years the ability to consistently deliver a precise deployment and speed to orbit,” said Ben White, Managing Director, Wholesale, Satellite and Strategy at Optus.

The Ariane 64 configuration, which uses four side boosters, will inject the Optus-11 satellite into a high-energy geostationary transfer orbit, enabling it to start operation more quickly.

Development of the Ariane 6 had been hit heavily by the COVID-19 outbreak. The successor to the Ariane 5 had been slated for a first flight in 2020, but a series of delays saw the target slip into 2021, then 2022. Progress has resumed, however.

“We’ve been advancing in the last weeks and months,” Winfried Oehler, head of electrical engineering and AIT support at ArianeGroup, told SpaceNews. “We’re preparing the last steps for a hot fire test of the upper stage in the south of Germany.”

A combined test model is expected to be delivered to Kourou, French Guiana, around the end of the year. “In parallel we are ramping up production of the flight model. We will complete the flight model early next year.” 

ESA’s official statement is for a first launch of the Ariane 6 in Q2 next year. At a panel at the Space Tech Expo Europe in Bremen, Germany, Nov. 17, Karl-Heinz Servos, head of industry directorate at ArianeGroup, stated that the group is working towards a launch in late 2022.

“I think we are doing a lot to get Ariane 6 off the ground while we are still launching Ariane 5. In industry it is always very difficult in this change phase,” Servos said.

An Arianespace Vega flight Nov. 16 sent the CERES 1, 2 and 3 satellites into orbit for CNES on behalf of French Ministry for the Armed Forces (DGA).

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...