A Falcon 9 rocket lifting off Feb. 11 on the second of more than a dozen launches planned for 2015. Credit: SpaceX

PARIS — Satellite fleet operator SES on Feb. 25 said two of the three satellites it ordered the previous week will be launched aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets in 2017.

Luxembourg-based SES, which was the first established commercial satellite fleet operator to use Falcon 9 and has another launch scheduled with SpaceX this summer, said its SES-14 and SES-16/GovSat satellites would be launched on separate Falcon 9 vehicles.

SES-14, under construction by Airbus Defence and Space of Europe, is expected to weigh 4,200 kilograms at launch. SES-16/Govsat – owned by a joint venture between SES and the Luxembourg government set up to sell X- and military Ka-band capacity to allied governments – is being built by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, and is expected to weigh less than 4,000 kilograms.

SES-16 Govsat

SpaceX rival Arianespace of Europe did not bid on either launch because both satellites are too heavy to fit into the lower position of the Ariane 5 rocket given the heavier upper-berth passengers that Evry, France-based Arianespace has booked for 2017.

An SES official confirmed that Arianespace did not bid for either of the two contracts. Satellites in the 4,000-kilogram class have limited launch options in today’s market. The Russian-built Proton rocket, marketed commercially by International Launch Services, typically launches satellites weighing 5,000 kilograms or more.

With Arianespace taking itself out of the running, SES had few options other than Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX – one reason why SES has been determined to help SpaceX into the commercial market.

SES ordered a third satellite, SES-15, at the same time as the other two. It is a Boeing 702SP spacecraft built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California and is expected to weigh less than either of the others.

Because of that, Arianespace is competing for the launch, also scheduled for 2017, industry officials said.


Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.