TAMPA, Fla. — A second pair of O3b mPower satellites for upgrading SES’ medium Earth orbit (MEO) broadband network are due to arrive at their SpaceX launchpad in Florida this week, Boeing announced April 11.

The satellites set off via truck last week from Boeing’s manufacturing facilities in El Segundo, California, Boeing Satellite Systems International president Ryan Reid said. He declined to provide specific timings because of security concerns.

SpaceX is slated to launch the pair on a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral “in the coming weeks,” SES chief technology officer Ruy Pinto said in a news release.

The first two of 11 O3b mPower satellites Boeing is building for SES launched on a Falcon 9 in December

Pinto said these initial satellites are “currently undergoing rigorous testing” as they continue to use onboard electric propulsion to reach their target destinations in MEO.

Each O3b mPower satellite is designed to scale from tens of megabits per second of throughput to multiple gigabits per second, roughly 10 times more than the first-generation of 20 Thales Alenia Space-built O3b satellites SES currently operates in MEO.

Pinto said early indications from its test program show O3b mPower will “more than fulfill the expectations of our customers.”

SES only needs six O3b mPower satellites in equatorial MEO to provide initial global services from the next-generation network, which is based on Boeing’s BSS-702X satellite platform

Keeping to schedule

The fifth and sixth O3b mPower satellites are currently in final integration and testing stages in California, according to Boeing, ahead of a SpaceX launch slated for before the end of June.

SES had hoped to begin deploying O3b mPower in 2021 before pandemic-related production issues helped delay initial services to late 2023.

The latest deployment delay was announced during SES’ Feb. 27 financial results, when the operator said launches for the second and third pairs of O3b mPower satellites had slipped from the first quarter to the second quarter of 2023.

SpaceX launched SES-18 and SES-19, the last two satellites SES needs for claiming C-band spectrum clearing proceeds worth nearly $4 billion in total, March 17. Credit: SES financial results Feb. 27

Despite the slow start and recent delays, Boeing said it has started hitting a stride with O3b mPower production as efforts to improve manufacturing and testing efficiencies start to take effect.

The company said its differentiated supply chain and a leaner, more automated production process had enabled it to reduce bus module build times by 50%, with a similar improvement also achieved for payload integration and testing operations.

“The efficiencies we introduced brought bus integration down from months to weeks,” Reid told SpaceNews via email. 

“A traditional integration and test program for a satellite with this power and performance, with this scale, would typically take 9-12 months.”

SpaceX is slated to launch a fourth pair of O3b mPower satellites before the end of this year. The final three satellites are due to be launched on a single Falcon 9 mission in 2024 to complete the constellation.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...