This story was updated March 22 with comments from Eutelsat and Airbus.
TAMPA, Fla. — Eutelsat Communications has ordered a geostationary (GEO) satellite called Eutelsat 36D from Airbus for a launch in 2024.
The contract marks the first commercial GEO signed order of 2021, according to an Airbus Defence and Space spokesperson.
Eutelsat 36D will replace Eutelsat 36B long before it reaches the end of its life in 2026 at the 36° East orbital position, where the satellite provides TV broadcast and government services across Africa, Russia and Europe.
The new satellite will launch in the second half of 2024. It will take between five to six months to enter service because it is using all-electric propulsion.
Eutelsat spokesperson Marie-Sophie Ecuer said it is creating headroom between Eutelsat 36D’s availability and Eutelsat 36B’s expiration to guard against launch failures, or other potential disruptions, because of how critical 36° East is for the company.
It is Eutelsat’s third most crucial orbital position in terms of broadcast revenue, and second for government services. Eutelsat 36C is also providing services from 36° East.
“We are delighted to rely once again on one of our longstanding partners, Airbus, to assure this critical satellite program,” said Pascal Homsy, Eutelsat’s chief technical officer.
“This new state-of-the-art satellite will assure enhanced service continuity for our key DTH customers in the major markets of Africa and Russia.”
Eutelsat 36D will have 70 physical Ku-band transponders, 18 kW of power and is based on the Airbus Eurostar Neo platform.
It is one of six satellites that Eutelsat has ordered for launches between 2021 and 2024.
Airbus order spree
Eutelsat 36D is the 26th satellite that Eutelsat has ordered overall from Airbus, which has built four of the all-electric satellites currently in orbit. The European manufacturer said it has 17 additional all-electric, high-capacity telecoms satellites under construction.
Intelsat signed a contract with Airbus at the end of 2020 for two satellites, announced in early 2021.
Airbus expects 15-18 GEO orders will be made this year as the commercial market slowly recovers from years of sluggish demand.
A series of commercial GEO communications satellites ordered in 2020, to help operators clear C-band spectrum for cellular 5G networks, provided a major —albeit temporary — boost for the market.
“The covid pandemic has shown the need for reliable, resilient and universal connectivity so we think the structural fundamentals for a return to growth are there and solid,” the Airbus Defence and Space spokesperson said.
Airbus expects around 70% of the future orders will be replacement satellites like Eutelsat 36D, addressing similar missions but with potentially different technology.
“We are at a moment where operators had to push their satellites to the limits of their lifetimes and have now to replace their assets with the new technologies and price points we can offer to adapt to their current and future business,” the spokesperson added.