ILS Caps Difficult 2014 with Successful Launch for SES

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PONTE VEDRA, Florida — A Russian Proton rocket on Dec. 28 successfully placed the Astra 2G telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, a launch whose delay forced satellite owner SES of Luxembourg to reorganize its future military telecommunications joint venture with the Luxembourg government.

Operating from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan under the oversight of International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, the Proton rocket and its Breeze-M upper stage placed the 6,000-kilogram Astra 2G into its intended transfer orbit after a flight of nine hours and 12 minutes including five ignitions of the Breeze-M.

Astra 2G, built by Airbus Defence and Space of Europe, carries a main payload of 62 Ku-band transponders and four Ka-band transponders and is designed to deliver 13 kilowatts of power at the end of its 15-year service life.

The satellite will operate at SES’s well-established 28.2/28.5-degree west orbital slot to deliver television and broadband services to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

But before it arrives at 28 degrees east, the satellite is likely to be tested and operated, for at least three months, at an undisclosed orbital slot to reserve military frequencies registered by the Luxembourg government.

SES and the Luxembourg government have agreed to a joint venture, called GovSat, to sell X- and military-Ka-band capacity to NATO and allied governments, in part as a way of fulfilling Luxembourg’s defense spending commitments to the 28-nation NATO alliance.

The problem for GovSat, which was only recently approved by the government, is that the orbital slot and frequency reservations were to expire in late December under International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regulatory rules.

Industry officials had said that SES, if necessary, would lease an in-orbit satellite carrying similar frequencies and move it into the intended GovSat slot until Astra 2G was in place.

Under ITU rules, a satellite must remain at a registered slot, and broadcast in the registered frequencies, for at least three months. After that, it can move elsewhere and the slot can remain vacant for more than a year without a loss of the reservation.

Rollout of the ILS Proton rocket that launched the Astra 2G satellite for SES. Photo: ILS
Rollout of the ILS Proton rocket that launched the Astra 2G satellite for SES. Credit: ILS

SES is managing a competition among manufacturers to build the GovSat satellite. It was unclear whether the Dec. 28 launch of Astra 2G, which was originally scheduled for launch much earlier in 2014, will suffice to meet the ITU deadline.

Officials said SES had been looking for an aging military satellite to move to the intended GovSat slot before the December deadline.

For ILS, the Dec. 28 launch ends a difficult year. A May Proton failure of a Russian civil telecommunications satellite – a launch not handled by ILS – added to the bottleneck among Proton customers, both commercial and within the Russian government.

The launch was the third ILS mission of the year and the eighth overall for Proton, which typically conducts a dozen or so missions per year.