Ovzon needs to piggyback another Ariane 5 ride for late 2022 launch

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TAMPA, Fla. — Arianespace is looking to move Ovzon’s first satellite to another Ariane 5 after Eutelsat switched to a dedicated mission to launch sooner.

Arianespace had been preparing to launch the Swedish broadband service provider’s Ovzon-3 satellite with Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS satellite.

Both satellites destined for geostationary orbit (GEO) have suffered pandemic-related production delays. However, Ovzon CEO Per Norén said Ovzon-3 is only expected to be ready for launch toward the end of this year.

Eutelsat decided it could not wait that long and reached a deal with Arianespace to launch Konnect VHTS Sept. 6 on a dedicated Ariane 5 mission.

Ovzon-3 manufacturer Maxar Technologies is still waiting on a reaction wheel from its supplier Honeywell, Norén told SpaceNews June 28.

Although this is due to be delivered soon, he said Ovzon was unable to guarantee the satellite would be ready to launch with Eutelsat in September. Not least because Ovzon-3 also needs to travel from Maxar’s California facilities to Arianespace’s launchpad in French Guiana by boat, amid a shortage of Ukrainian Antonov cargo aircraft.

French fleet operator Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS satellite was previously slated to enter service in the first half of 2023, before being pushed into the second half of next year following delays at manufacturer Thales Alenia Space.

Even though Konnect VHTS is now launching Sept. 6 on a dedicated Ariane 5 mission, Eutelsat spokesperson Marie-Sophie Ecuer said via email it requires “several months to be operational, notably in terms of Ground segment rollout.”

Its predecessor Eutelsat Konnect took almost a year to enter service. 

Konnect VHTS has a mass of 6,300 kilograms and is designed to deliver 500 gigabits per second broadband speeds to Europe. 

Its service delay will help stretch Eutelsat’s revenue slump into 2023, the operator said Feb. 17.

Hunting for rides

Ovzon-3 is smaller than traditional GEO communications satellites, weighing about 1,500 kilograms.

This makes it possible for Ovzon-3 to join one of the last remaining Ariane 5 missions with one or even two existing passengers, according to Norén.

After Arianespace’s September mission for Eutelsat, the launch provider will have three Ariane 5 rockets left before it transitions to the Ariane 6, which is slated to debut in 2023. 

While Arianespace declined to discuss its upcoming launch manifest, it confirmed all remaining Ariane 5s had booked customers.

Lingering supply chain issues are continuing to cloud satellite launch schedules.

“After COVID and supply chain issues and so on, it’s really hard to tell, I think, who is ready when, and that makes it pretty difficult for the launch providers to actually know exactly how to put the launch plan together,” Norén said.

Ovzon-3 could launch on a dedicated mission, but that would require dropping another Ariane 5 customer, and would leave a large amount of unused capacity on the rocket.

Arianespace is slated to launch the Galaxy 35 and Galaxy 36 C-band broadcast satellites for Intelsat on a single Ariane 5 this year.

The MTG I1 satellite for Europe’s meteorological satellite agency Eumetsat is also due to launch on an Ariane 5 in 2022.

Norén said Ovzon is also talking to other launch providers to ensure Ovzon-3 gets to launch in 2022.

“We’re working very closely with Arianespace and that’s our main path forward — they’re really good to deal with, and they’re working with us to get our launch scheduled when we can guarantee the finalization of the satellite,” he said.

“However, we have to have our options open.”

Ovzon-3 was originally set to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy before the Swedish company said it got a better offer from Arianespace in 2019.

Norén said the delay in launching its dedicated satellite had not disrupted the company’s growth plans too much.

Ovzon already provides broadband services by leasing capacity from other satellite operators.

Only two-thirds of the capacity Ovzon bought from Intelsat two and a half years ago is currently being utilized, according to Norén, with the remaining third still available for customers.

“It’s better for us to have our own capacity with Ovzon-3, but we’re not dependent on it,” he added.

Ovzon-3 has five steerable beams and is focused primarily on serving government needs. The U.S. Defense Department has traditionally been Ovzon’s largest customer.

Norén said demand for Ovzon-3, which also has a reprogrammable onboard processor that acts as a mesh network to enable remote satellite terminals to operate independently of a teleport, has increased following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.