JAY, Vermont – Qatari satellite operator Es’hailSat on Dec. 28 said its Es’hail 2 satellite, the company’s first fully owned telecommunications spacecraft, would be launched in late 2016 aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Falcon 9 rocket.
The launch competition was constrained by the inability of Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium to bid on the contract because Es’hail 2, expected to weigh 5,300 kilograms at launch, will be too heavy to ride in the lower position of Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket.
Evry, France-based Arianespace is fully booked through 2016 for the Ariane 5 upper berth, which accommodates heavier satellites. Ariane 5 typically carries two telecommunications satellites at a time into geostationary transfer orbit.
Es’hailSat Chief Executive Ali Al Kuwari said the ability of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX to meet the late-2016 launch schedule was the most important element in the selection. The launch will occur from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Es’hail 2 is under construction by Mitsubishi Electric Corp. of Japan, which in recent years, and with the backing of the Japanese government, has raised its efforts to appeal to international commercial customers.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a Dec. 28 statement that the two companies “worked closely together to develop a launch solution that enhances the capabilities for the Es’hail 2 mission.”
SpaceX has fallen behind its originally ambitious 2014 launch schedule and recently reorganized its website to list its future customers in alphabetical order without including the year in which the launches are expected to occur.
At last count, SpaceX’s 2015 manifest, which starts Jan. 6 with the launch of a Dragon space station cargo capsule for NASA, listed more than a dozen launches including an inaugural demonstration of the new Falcon Heavy rocket.
SpaceX conducted six missions in 2014, including four launches in nine weeks between July 14 and September 21, its final flight for the year.
Es’hail 1, Qatar’s first telecommunications satellite, launched in August 2013, is co-owned with satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris. Es’hailSat has said it is beginning work on an Es’hail 3 as it seeks to muscle in on a Middle East-centered satellite telecommunications market that counts Arabsat of Saudi Arabia, Nilesat of Egypt, Yahsat of the United Arab Emirates, Eutelsat and others as existing operators. The company is developing a core satellite broadcast position at 26 degrees east after an agreement on frequency allocation with Arabsat.