EchoStar says Jupiter-3 won’t be ready for 2022 launch

by

TAMPA, Fla. — EchoStar says satellite builder Maxar Technologies won’t deliver its long-awaited Jupiter-3 satellite in time for its end-of-year launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

The head of EchoStar’s Hughes Network Systems said in a May 5 earnings call that the satellite, which it badly needs to relieve broadband capacity constraints in the Americas, won’t launch before the first quarter of 2023.

“This delay is due in part to relocation of critical resources at Maxar to a higher priority government-related spacecraft project,” said Pradman Kaul, president of Hughes Networks Systems, the EchoStar subsidiary that operates the Jupiter network.

Maxar declined to directly confirm Kaul’s explanation for the additional delay for the 500 gigabit-per-second Ka-band satellite.

“Maxar complies with all legal directives and regulations requiring prioritization of government missions while ensuring we maintain our commitment to customer-focused solutions and service,” Maxar said via email May 5.

Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky told SpaceNews in early April that it was looking to deploy WorldView Legion, a constellation of six imagery satellites, “as quickly as possible” to meet soaring government demand following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

According to Jablonsky, Maxar’s existing fleet of four imagery spacecraft will be stretched for capacity until higher-resolution WorldView Legion satellites are deployed. 

SpaceX is slated to launch the first two WorldView Legion satellites in early summer, and then the remaining four in pairs over two three-month intervals.

Jablonsky said Maxar had “made accommodations with some of our other [imagery] customers to be able to surge capacity for the U.S. and allies.”

Maxar is also working on the OSAM-1 robotic satellite servicing mission and the Power and Propulsion Element for the lunar Gateway that will support human lunar landings, which are both programs for NASA but neither is due to launch before 2024. 

“Maxar’s manufacturing facilities are very active building a multitude of government, civil and commercial customer satellites,” Maxar said via email May 5. “EchoStar is a valued customer of Maxar. We’re working hard and looking forward to successful completion of the Jupiter-3 satellite for them.

Satellite delays

EchoStar ordered Jupiter-3 from Maxar in 2017, and had initially planned to deploy it in 2021 to cover North and South America, Canada and Mexico.

The satellite has more than double the capacity of Jupiter-2, which was launched in 2017 to cover North America, Mexico and Canada.

The Jupiter-3 project suffered multiple delays stemming from a pandemic that began tightening its grip on international supply chains in early 2020.

After delaying a decision to pick a launch provider for Jupiter-3 to allow more time for uncertainty in the market to shake out, EchoStar tapped SpaceX in late 2020 for a 2021 launch to geostationary (GEO) orbit.

The pandemic continued to disrupt the availability of skilled workers and components across the satellite industry in 2021, forcing EchoStar to push the launch into early 2022. 

More pandemic-related setbacks pushed Jupiter-3’s launch date to various points in the year before the latest delay knocked it into 2023.

Other GEO satellites have also suffered pandemic-related delays, even as closures, mask mandates and other restrictions were easing worldwide amid deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.

During its Feb. 3 financial update, Viasat said a pandemic-related shortage of skilled workers had pushed the Falcon Heavy launch of its Boeing-built ViaSat-3 satellite from the first half of 2022 to “late summer.”

Like Jupiter-3, ViaSat-3 is intended to provide high-speed services across the Americas.

In Europe, Eutelsat expects two delayed GEO satellites from Thales Alenia Space will stretch its revenue slump into 2023, the French fleet operator said during Feb. 17 financial results.

And supply chain issues have not just affected large GEO satellites. 

Canada’s Telesat said March 18 that ongoing manufacturing delays at Thales Alenia Space have pushed out the completion of its low Earth orbit Lightspeed network by a year to 2026.

SES CEO Steve Collar said May 5 it has adjusted its launch agreement with SpaceX this year to accommodate “a slightly later delivery” of satellites Boeing is building for O3b mPower, the operator’s next-generation constellation in medium Earth orbit.

The operator had previously planned to split the first six O3b mPower satellites between two SpaceX launches in the second quarter of 2022. 

Instead, the companies are planning to deploy six O3b mPower satellites across three SpaceX launches between July and September, keeping SES on track to launch the upgraded network commercially “from the beginning of 2023.”

Boeing is building 11 satellites for O3b mPower in total.

EchoStar capacity crunch

EchoStar said revenues jumped nearly 4% to $502 million for the three months to the end of March 2022, compared with the same period last year. 

But adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, fell 10.7% to $166 million.

“While the growth of our consumer broadband business has been impacted as a result of our capacity constraints and other factors, we have continued to increase revenue by capitalizing on enterprise and government opportunities — both domestically and internationally,” EchoStar chief financial officer David Rayner said.

“However, this change in our revenue mix has and will continue to put some pressure on our margins” until the company monetizes additional capacity from Jupiter-3.

Hamid Akhavan, a former partner at private equity firm Twin Point Capital, took over as EchoStar’s CEO March 31 after Michael Dugan retired.

EchoStar announced May 2 that Anders Johnson, the company’s chief strategy officer, had notified the company that he plans to resign June 3 to pursue other opportunities.

Johnson spearheaded EchoStar’s efforts to expand its European S-band business globally with non-geostationary satellites.

Akhavan said his departure should not be viewed as a step away from its S-band ambitions. On the contrary, he said EchoStar is “shifting resources there” to capture what he sees as an emerging opportunity. 

However, he said the company is conducting a “fresh reassessment of our resources and opportunities, and an examination of our industry and adjacent verticals, with the goal to reignite and refine our corporate growth profile.” 

This includes potentially making acquisitions to enter new markets. 

Echostar recorded $1.5 billion in cash, “cash equivalents and current marketable investment securities” as of March 31. 

Akhavan said the benefits of the company’s “uniquely strong balance sheet — something that most of our peers and competitors cannot say,” will become more evident as interest rates rise and the “likelihood of a recessionary environment becomes meaningful.”

 

Edit May 16: An Echostar spokesperson confirmed Jupiter-3 is slated to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, not a Falcon 9