This story was updated Jan. 17, 2017 at 6:29 p.m. EST.
WASHINGTON — The second of two all-electric satellites fleet operator Eutelsat gained through its acquisition of Satmex began service Jan. 16 after finishing a seven-month journey to its orbital location, Eutelsat announced.
Eutelsat 117 West B launched last June on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with ABS-2A, a similar all-electric satellite Boeing built for Bermuda-based ABS. Both satellites formed the second set in a four-satellite order paired with Falcon 9 dual launches. ABS and Satmex, now Eutelsat Americas, praised the deal as producing substantial cost savings, while accepting the tradeoff that it would take months instead of days for their spacecraft to reach their final orbits.
Despite the hype that surrounded ABS and Satmex’s 2012 group purchase of four all-electric Boeing 702SP satellites, Boeing has yet to close a similar deal.
Satellites using all-electric propulsion can weigh as little has half those equipped with chemical propulsion. Operators can use this mass savings to pack bigger payloads onto a spacecraft platform or, as was the case of Eutelsat and ABS, make due with smaller satellites and save on launch costs.
Eutelsat 117 West B, known as Satmex 9 before Paris-based Eutelsat acquired the Mexican satellite operator in 2013, carries 48 Ku-band transponders, covering Latin America and the Caribbean. The satellite also hosts the Wide Area Augmentation System payload that Raytheon will operate for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to increase the accuracy of GPS signals for aircraft starting in 2018.
Now in geostationary orbit, the satellite forms a new neighborhood at 117 degrees west with the Space Systems Loral-built Eutelsat 117 West A, which launched in 2013 aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket as Satmex 8. Eutelsat Americas handles capacity sales for the satellites.
Eutelsat’s first all-electric satellite from the 2012 Boeing order (Eutelsat 115 West B, or Satmex 7 as it was previously known) was launched in March 2015 and reached its geostationary perch a monthly early thanks to a better than expected performance from the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it into orbit along with ABS-3A. The ABS satellite entered service that August; Eutelsat’s satellite went live that October.
With Eutelsat 117 West B’s deployment now completed, only one of the four satellites from ABS and Satmex’s 2012 order has yet to enter service: ABS-2A. ABS CEO Tom Choi told SpaceNews Jan. 17th that the company is targeting Jan. 20th as the satellite’s operational ready date.
“The satellite has been there since early January and the payload testing is under way now,” he said.
Collocated with ABS-2 at 75 degrees east, ABS-2A carries 48 transponders and five high-powered Ku-band beams for coverage of the Middle East, Northern Africa and parts of Asia.
Eutelsat has ordered more all-electric satellites since 2012, but not from Boeing. Space Systems Loral got Eutelsat’s order for Eutelsat 7C, Airbus Defence and Space got the order for Eutelsat 172B, and Thales Alenia Space is building Eutelsat’s Africa Broadband Satellite.
ABS went back to Boeing in 2015 for an all-electric design for ABS-8. But that order was contingent on U.S Export-Import Bank financing, an consequently was canceled when Ex-Im was forced to shut its doors that summer after its congressional authorization expired. (The bank reopened at the end of 2015 but still can’t finance big satellite projects because Congress hasn’t allowed the White House to fill board vacancies preventing the bank from approving deals above $10 million.)
ABS still intends to order an ABS-8 satellite. Choi said late last year that he wants a design that offers higher-throughput than the satellite he was ready to buy from Boeing in 2015. Choi said that ABS still wants to buy American and that Boeing remains in the running.