Lockheed Martin AMC-1 GE-1
Artist's rendition of AMC-1 (formerly GE-1), another Lockheed Martin-buit satellite for SES like AMC-3 (once GE-3). Credit: Lockheed Martin

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES disclosed Jan. 13 that it was the owner of the inclined-orbit satellite that Global Eagle purchased recently to boost its in-flight connectivity service.

Global Eagle Chief Executive Dave Davis said Jan. 4 that the company had purchased all the capacity on an undisclosed satellite to support aeronautical customers, in particular Southwest Airlines, the company’s largest customer.

Global Eagle and SES formally announced the satellite deal Jan. 13 in separate press releases.

The satellite, AMC-3, carries 24 Ku-band transponders and launched in September 1997 on an Atlas 2A rocket. Lockheed Martin built the satellite, which is now operating nearly five years past its design life.

SES said it will continue to operate the non-station-kept satellite and will support Global Eagle in its use. Global Eagle is rebranding the satellite as Eagle-1.

Davis said Jan. 4 that Global Eagle paid a low enough price for the satellite to outweigh the risk of buying a nearly 20-year-old spacecraft that’s drifted into an inclined orbit.

To preserve on-board propellant for contingency operations, operators sometimes forego station-keeping maneuvers for older satellites like Eagle-1, allowing the spacecraft’s position in the sky to gradually shift. While that can be a problem for some immobile ground-based antennas and terminals, it’s not a big deal for airplanes and boats, which are already equipped with antennas designed to keep satellites in sight while on the go.

Eagle-1 covers North America, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Global Eagle, in announcing the rebranding of AMC-3, hinted that future deals of this nature might follow.

“Our strategic plan calls for us to own critical elements of our infrastructure, especially in areas where we have the greatest density of users. It enables us to deliver bandwidth where it is needed at the most competitive price,” Davis said in a Jan. 13 statement. “This may involve selectively deploying additional Eagle-series payloads over locations where it makes good sense in the future.”

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...