ILS Proton M
An ILS Proton M lifted off Aug. 28 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying Inmarsat's third Global Express satellite. Credit: ILS/Inmarsat

PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat has signed a multilaunch agreement with International Launch Services for Proton rocket missions between 2016 and 2023 in a deal that helps restore the Russian vehicle’s credibility in a commercial market that recently has been dominated by Europe’s Ariane 5 and SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The Oct. 30 announcement by Paris-based Eutelsat and Reston, Virginia-based ILS came two days after Eutelsat announced its intention to forgo a co-passenger and purchase an entire Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket for its Eutelsat 65 West A satellite, to be stationed over Latin America.

Eutelsat said its decision to pay more for a dedicated launch — Ariane 5 typically launches two geostationary-orbiting satellites at once — was made to capture the opportunity of having the satellite in service before the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

In addition, Eutelsat 65 West A’s Ka-band payload has been fully leased to EchoStar Corp.’s Hughes Network Systems for consumer broadband services, and revenue from that contract starts to flow as soon as the satellite is in operation.

Eutelsat 65 West A had been set for a mid-2016 launch but it was not clear whether launch service provider Arianespace would be able to find a co-passenger. Eutelsat’s decision to take the entire launch helps Evry, France-based Arianespace smooth out its 2016 launch schedule.

Eutelsat 65 West A is expected to weigh about 6,600 kilograms at launch and would have been in the Ariane 5 rocket’s upper berth, meaning Arianespace attempted to find a smaller satellite for the lower berth.

“We actively manage our launch manifest in collaboration with our customers, as was seen by our decision with respect to the EchoStar 19 satellite launch, in addition to our recent agreement with Eutelsat,” Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said Oct. 30. “Our objective is to satisfy our customers and guarantee a regular launch rhythm without degrading our financial accounts.”

Arianespace agreed to free EchoStar/Hughes from a launch contract for EchoStar 19 when the satellite’s construction delay made it difficult for Arianespace to accommodate it into its busy launch manifest. EchoStar 19 will now be launched aboard a U.S. Atlas 5 rocket.

The Ariane 5 lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, on schedule at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time and placed the Arsat-2 and Sky Muster satellites for Argentina and Australia, respectively, into orbit. The launch was the fifth Ariane 5 mission of 2015. Credit: Arianespace video
The Eutelsat 65 West A satellite, to be stationed over Latin America, will be launched without a co-passenger on an Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket (above). Credit: Arianespace video

Eutelsat announced Oct. 28 that in addition to securing the Ariane 5 launch in the first three months of 2016 as a sole passenger, the company had exercised an option with Arianespace for a future launch. The agreement brings to four the number of future launches Eutelsat has booked aboard the Ariane 5.

ILS, meanwhile, is owned by Proton prime contractor Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, which is owned by the Russian government. After a string of Proton failures, Khrunichev and ILS were marginalized in the commercial market, with Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX and Arianespace dividing most of the global business between them.

But the chief executives of Eutelsat, SES of Luxembourg, and Intelsat of Luxembourg and McLean, Virginia, have all said two regularly used rockets is not enough for the industry. They pointed to 2015 failures of the Falcon 9 and Proton as evidence that at least three viable launch service providers are required for a healthy market.

Eutelsat is the first to make concrete its belief in a three-launcher market. The multilaunch agreement begins in early 2016 with the launch of Eutelsat 9B, which was already on the ILS manifest.

No other satellites are named. Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said Oct. 30 that the agreement gives Eutelsat maximum flexibility in addition to diversifying the company’s launch supply base.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.