PARIS — Arianespace will launch a small geostationary communication satellite for Intelsat on an Ariane 6 in 2026, a sign of a stable, but diminished, role for such satellites in the commercial launch market.
Arianespace announced Sept. 12 it signed a contract with Intelsat to launch the IS-45 satellite in the first half of 2026. The satellite will fly with unnamed co-passengers on the more powerful version of the Ariane 6, the Ariane 64.
Intelsat ordered IS-45 last November from Swissto12, a Swiss company that has developed 3D-printing technologies for space systems. The one-ton satellite will carry a payload of 12 Ku-band transponders. The satellite is based on the HummingSat platform that Swissto12 developed with support from the European Space Agency.
Arianespace and Intelsat noted that the IS-45 contract comes nearly 40 years after Arianespace conducted its first launch for Intelsat, placing the Intelsat 507 satellite into GEO in October 1983.
The GEO satellite launch market has changed significantly over the four decades since Intelsat 507. Such satellites once formed the core of the commercial launch market, with 20 to 25 satellites a year on average being launched. That demand, though, has dropped in recent years amid the shift to broadband constellations in low Earth orbit.
“It’s a huge change,” said Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, during a panel at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here Sept. 11. “You have less and less, and the satellites ordered are not as heavy as they used to be.”
Launch companies say that the commercial GEO market remains important to them despite a decline in orders. “We see that market pretty stable at about 10 launches per year,” said Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance. Those satellites, he said, will increasingly be part of multi-orbit systems working with LEO constellations. “I think that market stays pretty stable.”
“It’s still a significant part of what we do,” said Tom Ochinero, vice president of commercial sales at SpaceX. “There’s aways been this narrative of GEO launches going away. I don’t see that.”
However, the executives acknowledged that the bigger driver of launch demand is for broadband constellations. Bruno noted that the design of such constellations requires a steady pace of launches as old satellites are replaced on a rolling basis even after the system is completed. “With the megaconstellations in LEO, that is the dominant market by far.”
“We need the constellations,” Israël said. “GEO is still here, but definitely constellations are the stronger engine now for growth.”