TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX launched a third pair of O3b mPower satellites Nov. 12, enough for SES to start services next year from a constellation grappling with electrical issues that have reduced initial capacity.

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Luxembourg-based operator’s satellites lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, at 4:08 p.m. Eastern toward medium Earth orbit (MEO). 

The Boeing-built satellites separated from the rocket about two hours later, roughly seven minutes from each other.

SES confirmed it successfully contacted the satellites post-launch, ahead of their journey to final positions in MEO that will take several months via onboard all-electric propulsion.

As is now routine for SpaceX, the Falcon 9’s first stage booster successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after launch for reuse.

Going commercial

SpaceX was slated to launch the fifth and sixth O3b mPower satellites by the end of June, but the mission was put on hold after what at first appeared to be a minor glitch that is sporadically tripping off power modules on the first four in orbit.

SES said Oct. 31 that their electrical issues were worse than initially thought, and will significantly reduce operational life and broadband capacity. 

Each spacecraft was designed to scale up to multiple gigabits per second of throughput — 10 times more than the operator’s first generation of 20 O3b satellites in MEO — and operate for about 10 years.

Boeing was originally under contract to build a total 11 O3b mPower satellites, all to be launched by SpaceX. 

However, to get the expected performance from the constellation, Boeing will now provide an extra two O3b mPower satellites under an amended contract, alongside fixes for five of them that will delay their launches by about a year.

The fifth and sixth satellites launched today do not include these upgrades and are identical to the first four, SES spokesperson Suzanne Ong confirmed.

SpaceX’s successful launch Nov. 12 puts SES on course to deploy an initial commercial service covering 96% of the world’s population in the second quarter of 2024.

SES has distributed and tested more than 160 O3b mPower terminals this year using its existing O3b network serving enterprise and government customers, the company said in a post-launch news release.

Ong said SES has not yet booked a launch provider for the extra two satellites under its amended Boeing contract, which the operator does not expect to require more investment because of a risk-sharing deal with the manufacturer.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...