SES orders four more O3b mPower satellites from Boeing

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WASHINGTON — Boeing will build four additional O3b mPower high-throughput communications satellites for fleet operator SES under an order announced Aug. 7 to expand the second-generation constellation to 11 satellites.

Boeing is building the first seven O3b mPower satellites under a contract awarded in 2017. Those satellites were expected to launch by the end of 2021 on a pair of SpaceX Falcon rockets, but current plans call for launching the first three late next year, six more in 2022, and the final two in 2024.

All 11 satellites will operate from medium Earth orbit to provide terabits of mobile broadband capacity for government and commercial customers.

Boeing is using its new 702x software-defined satellite platform to build the O3b mPower spacecraft. Each O3b mPower satellite will have the ability to beam 50 megabits to “multiple gigabits per second” to customers, Boeing said.

“We have built our network around a multi-orbit, multi-frequency, high-throughput, flexible and open architecture increasingly of value to Government users,” SES CEO Steve Collar said in a news release. “We are looking forward to the first launch of O3b mPOWER and excited to extend our partnership with Boeing.”

SES estimates spending 480 million euros ($566 million) on the four additional satellites, an amount that covers manufacturing, launch and insurance.

The four satellites will be more advanced than the original seven, increasing the total throughput of the entire O3b mPower constellation by 90%, Collar said during an Aug. 7 earnings call.

Boeing and SES said they will collaborate on interoperability between O3b satellites in medium Earth orbit and U.S. government-owned military satellite communications systems.

Collar said SES’s Networks division, which encompasses O3b and the rest of SES’s broadband-focused business, generates about a third of its revenues from government customers, making military use of O3b mPower a priority.

Each O3b mPower satellite has a design life of 12 years, Collar said. SES may continue to scale the medium Earth orbit constellation if demand for its services continues to grow, he said.

At present, SES doesn’t have current plans for any additional growth satellites beyond those it has under construction with manufacturers, Collar said.

SES operates a fleet of 20 first-generation O3b satellites built by Thales Alenia Space, and a constellation of roughly 50 geostationary satellites from various manufacturers.

John-Paul Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks, said a big difference between the first- and second-generation O3b satellites is the ability of mPower satellites to generate and beam capacity on an as-needed basis, rather than striving to fill up beams with predetermined characteristics.

“It allows us to have capacity wherever you need it — you don’t have to fix a beam in one place and then fill that beam,” Hemingway said.

SES plans to deploy its 11-satellite O3b mPower constellation between 2021 and 2024, according to information included in an Aug. 7 report on the company’s financial performance for the first six months of 2020. Credit: SES