WASHINGTON — A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 successfully launched a broadband satellite for EchoStar Dec. 18 on ULA’s final mission of the year, putting EchoStar back on track to jump-start subscriber growth for its satellite internet service.
The Atlas 5 431 lifted off at 2:13 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch was postponed because of an issue with the vehicle’s avionics that triggered a hold just 74 seconds before the original liftoff time of 1:27 p.m. Controllers eventually decided to manually monitor the issue that triggered the hold.
The rescheduled launch then went as planned, with the EchoStar 19 satellite separating from the Centaur upper stage 32 minutes after liftoff. The Atlas 5 placed EchoStar 19 into a super-synchronous transfer orbit with an apogee of about 65,000 kilometers, from which the satellite will maneuver to geostationary orbit at 109 degrees west.
EchoStar 19, also known as Jupiter 2, was built by Space Systems Loral and is designed to provide broadband Internet access to customers of the company’s HughesNet service in North America. Germantown, Maryland-based Hughes expects to reach a throughput of 220 gigabits per second with EchoStar 19, an increase of 58 gigabits per second thanks to improvements to the satellite and the ground segment. The Ka-band spot-beam spacecraft provides room for additional subscribers to HughesNet consumer broadband, since the near-entirety of EchoStar 17/Jupiter 1’s marketable capacity is already spoken for.
In August 2015, EchoStar switched the launch of EchoStar-19 from Arianespace to ULA in order to launch the satellite sooner. The company is awaiting one more launch this year, of EchoStar 21 aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket. Previously anticipated to launch in mid-2016, the mission slipped to late December as Proton manufacturer Khrunichev sought to investigate a second stage anomaly during the June launch of Intelsat 31.
EchoStar is also awaiting the launch of the Ku-band broadcast satellite EchoStar-23 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. That mission was originally anticipated in August before delays compounded by the Sept. 1 Amos-6 explosion pushed that flight into 2017.
The launch was the twelfth and final mission of the year for ULA. That total includes eight Atlas 5 and four Delta 4 launches. The Atlas 5 launches featured three commercial missions: in addition to the EchoStar 19 launch, an Atlas 5 launched the WorldView-4 satellite Nov. 11, and another launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft for Orbital ATK in March. ULA and Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services, which markets the Atlas commercially, have sought in recent years to sign up more commercial customers for the Atlas 5.
This launch was just the third of the Atlas 5 431 variant, which uses a payload fairing four meters in diameter and three solid rocket boosters. The Atlas 5 431 previously launched the Inmarsat 4-F1 satellite in March 2005 and Intelsat 14 in November 2009. While terms of this launch were not disclosed, the Atlas 5 431 has an approximate list price of $132 million for standard commercial missions to geostationary transfer orbit, according to ULA’s RocketBuilder website.
Current manifests call for about 14 ULA missions in 2017, of which up to 10 will be Atlas 5 launches, including another commercial launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Three Delta 4 launches are also scheduled, as well as one of the final launches of the Delta 2, carrying the first Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft.