SS/L-built EchoStar 17 Healthy in Orbit Following Ariane 5 Launch

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DARMSTADT, Germany — Europe’s Ariane 5 ECA heavy-lift rocket successfully placed the EchoStar 17 broadband satellite and Europe’s MSG-3 meteorological satellite into geostationary orbit July 5 in the fourth of seven Ariane 5 launch campaigns planned this year.

It was the 49th consecutive success for the Ariane 5 rocket, operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America.

The builders of both satellites said after the launch that their spacecraft were sending signals and were healthy in orbit.

Insurance underwriters and others paid particular attention to the launch because EchoStar 17, insured for about $300 million, was the first flight of a Space Systems/Loral (SS/L)-built satellite since a May 31 launch of the Intelsat 19.

One of the two Intelsat 19 solar arrays at first failed to deploy after indicating a problem in power levels. When the array deployed nearly two weeks after Intelsat 19’s launch aboard a Sea Launch rocket, controllers determined that it had suffered permanent damage that will limit the power available to the satellite during its 15-year service life.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Space Systems/Loral and Sea Launch AG of Bern, Switzerland, appear to be at odds over what happened to Intelsat 19, with each suggesting that the other’s hardware was to blame.

A board of inquiry has been established but has not completed its work sifting through the Sea Launch telemetry of conditions under the rocket’s fairing as it climbed through the atmosphere.

With no solid information, insurers and satellite operators had little alternative but to trust their own instincts with respect to the launch of upcoming Space Systems/Loral satellites.

Standing down a launch could mean a satellite operator is placed in the back of the launch services provider’s queue, which could mean months of delays.

The SES-5 satellite, owned by SES of Luxembourg, had been scheduled to be the next Space Systems/Loral satellite to launch after Intelsat 19. But International Launch Services (ILS) of McLean, Va., which markets Russia’s Proton heavy-lift vehicle, postponed the launch for rocket-related reasons.

SES-5 is now scheduled for launch from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan July 10.

EchoStar 17 was thus the first out of the gates after Intelsat 19. Space Systems/Loral early July 6 said the satellite had deployed its solar arrays on schedule, and that all other systems were performing as designed.

Weighing 6,100 kilograms at launch, EchoStar 17 will be capable of providing 16.1 kilowatts of power to its all-Ka-band communications payload at the end of the satellite’s planned 15-year life.

EchoStar 17 is the third of a new generation of satellites built to provide heretofore unheard-of amounts of bandwidth for consumer broadband applications. Paris-based Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat entered service in mid-2011. Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat’s ViaSat-1, an EchoStar 17 lookalike, has been operational since January.

EchoStar 17 will operate at 107.1 degrees west and will offer Hughes Communications’ HughesNet Gen4 broadband service.

The satellite, which is expected to enter commercial service in October after completing in-orbit checkout, will permit Hughes to match the bandwidth offer of ViaSat’s Exede service.

ViaSat-1 and EchoStar 17 — whose name was changed from Jupiter following Hughes’ purchase by EchoStar of Englewood, Colo., in 2011 — each provide around 140 gigabits of bandwidth, or 14 times the bandwidth of Hughes’ Spaceway 3 satellite, which uses Ka-band as well but is an earlier design.

The similarities of EchoStar 17 and ViaSat-1 are Exhibit A in ViaSat’s lawsuit, filed against Space Systems/Loral earlier this year, alleging breach of contract and patent infringement.

 

Meteosat’s MSG-3

The launch’s other payload, the MSG-3 satellite, is the third second-generation Meteosat spacecraft built for the European Space Agency and the 26-nation Eumetsat, Europe’s meteorological satellite organization, which is based here.

MSG-3 is likely to replace the first second-generation Meteosat, permitting the older spacecraft to be moved over the Indian Ocean to continue a Eumetsat-provided service in that region.

MSG-3 is one of four nearly identical second-generation Meteosat satellites built by Thales Alenia Space of Cannes, France. The last of them is scheduled for launch in early 2014. This series of satellites is designed to operate for just seven years in geostationary orbit, but previous Meteosats have proved capable of conserving their fuel to remain on station far longer.

After the satellite’s in-orbit checkout, the first image from MSG-3 — which once in operations will be renamed Meteosat 10 — is expected in August. It will operate at 0 degrees longitude, the longstanding home of Meteosat spacecraft.

MSG-3 is a spin-stabilized satellite, its cylindrical design recalling the early days of the satellite telecommunications industry, when most satellites were built this way. The design features solar panels that form the cylinder’s outer shell.

Modern telecommunications and meteorological satellites are stabilized on their three axes and feature solar wings that are folded up at launch and then deploy once the satellite is in orbit.

Eumetsat and ESA also are moving to three-axis stabilization for the Meteosat Third Generation satellites, which are being built by a consortium led by Thales Alenia Space and OHB AG of Bremen, Germany.

In what sounded like a veiled reference to the questions surrounding the Intelsat 19 launch, Thales Alenia Space Executive Vice President Joel Chenet, in a postlaunch address here, said: “Let me say first off that our solar arrays are fully deployed.