SES Arianespace Ceremony
SES Chairman and CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh (left) and Arianespace Chairman and Chief Executive Stephane Israel (sitting, right) signed the launch contract for the SES-15 satellite. The agreement was inked in the presence of French President François Hollande; His Royal Highness Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg; and Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Credit: Arianespace

PARIS — The diplomatic gymnastics companies must undertake in the presence of heads of state was in full view March 6 at the headquarters of satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg.

With the heads of state of France and Luxembourg looking on, SES announced that Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium would launch the SES-15 satellite in mid-2017 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

The statement issued after the contract signature omitted any reference to the fact that the 2,300-kilogram SES-15 is an all-electric spacecraft built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California.

The company also announced, for the second time in two weeks, that it had contracted with Airbus Defence and Space of Europe to build the SES-14 satellite. SES said the contract was “officially signed” March 6.

Absent from the SES-15 announcement was the fact that SES has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, for the launch of the 4,200-kilogram spacecraft. Of the three satellites SES ordered Feb. 16, two are to be launched on SpaceX Falcon rockets, with the third now committed to Arianespace.

Arianespace had said it could not bid on the other two because its 2017 launch manifest is about full for heavier satellites riding in the Ariane 5 rocket’s upper berth, and the two SES satellites in question were too heavy to ride in the lower berth.

SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell, who has been the most vocal champion of SpaceX among the established satellite operators, said in a statement:
“The contracts with Arianespace and Airbus Defence and Space clearly demonstrate the important roles played for us by the European aerospace industry and French industry.”


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