Payload Development Issues Delay Hylas

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LE BOURGET, France — Avanti Communications’ Hylas Ka-band consumer broadband satellite likely will not be ready for launch until mid-2010, a year later than planned, because of delays in development of the satellite’s payload and its intended launch vehicle, the satellite’s prime contractor said.

Astrium Satellites Chief Executive Evert Dudok said Astrium has encountered unexpected challenges with Hylas’ flexible Ka-band payload, which is being developed with funding from the European Space Agency. The gear will make its first flight aboard Hylas.

In a June 16 briefing here at the Paris Air Show, Dudok said it is Astrium that is behind schedule on Hylas, and not the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), whose Antrix commercial arm is building the satellite’s platform.

Astrium and Antrix have established a joint venture to market a line of small telecommunications satellites. The first satellite built by the new venture, Eutelsat‘s W2M, has been declared a total loss by Paris-based Eutelsat because of a failure of one of the two solar arrays to deploy.

While the other solar array has deployed correctly, industry officials said W2M also has encountered problems with its batteries. While the satellite is able to provide partial service, Eutelsat has declared it a total loss for insurance purposes.

Dudok said the failure was caused by a defect in the solar array drive mechanism, which orients the panels. He said this is the first time that an ISRO satellite has failed in this way. “It shows that this kind of failure can happen to anyone. Most satellite manufacturers, including Astrium, have encountered problems with their solar arrays in one form or another.”

Dudok said the Hylas delay has nothing to do with W2M-related issues at ISRO or Antrix. “This is not an Antrix issue or a platform issue. It is the very innovative reconfigurable Ka-band payload. Astrium underestimated the complexity of the payload and there is a delay. We now expect to deliver [the Hylas payload] to Antrix in August.”

A satellite’s payload, once completed, is then mated to the platform in preparation for a battery of tests to prove its ability to perform in orbit as designed. Dudok said Hylas would be ready for launch in mid-2010.

London-based Avanti has selected the Falcon 9 rocket being developed by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., to carry Hylas into orbit. Falcon 9 is also behind schedule, and SpaceX officials say they plan an inaugural flight — for an unidentified U.S. government customer — late this year.

Dudok said Astrium is assisting Avanti in finding an alternate launcher in the event Falcon 9 is not ready for commercial flights when Hylas completes its ground qualification tests.

Industry officials said it will not be easy for Avanti, a start-up satellite operator, to secure the financing needed to purchase a launch that will place Hylas in orbit before 2011. As one of the early customers for Falcon 9, Avanti paid a launch fee that is far lower than prevailing commercial launch rates, these officials said.

Avanti currently leases capacity on other operators’ satellites. Its future satellite-broadband business plans are dependent on the Hylas launch.