Supplier issue behind delays with first ViaSat-3 launch

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Problems with an unnamed component supplier are the reason the first launch of a ViaSat-3 high-throughput satellite won’t happen until 2021.

Carlsbad, California-based Viasat, which is building a trio of ViaSat-3 satellites with Boeing for global broadband connectivity, informed the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that it will need an extension of its market access rights for the first ViaSat-3 because of those delays.

The FCC had granted Viasat, whose satellites are licensed in the United Kingdom, permission to provide Ka-band communications services in the U.S. from an orbital slot at 88.9 degrees west, provided a satellite was launched and operational by June 18, 2019.

Viasat had in company earnings calls indicated that the first ViaSat-3 satellite had slipped to 2020 and could drift into 2021, but had not given a specific reason. In its June 17 filing, Viasat said issues with a “vendor” resulted in delays with the payloads needed for ViaSat-3. The name of the vendor was redacted.

Viasat asked to have until Dec. 31, 2021 to bring ViaSat-3 Americas into service, or to receive a waiver from the FCC’s deployment milestone.

In contrast to most satellite operators, Viasat is building its own payloads rather than tasking a manufacturer. Viasat said it builds the ViaSat-3 payloads at its own satellite manufacturing facility in Tempe, Arizona, using modular structures from Boeing.

Boeing is also providing the satellite chassis and integrating the payloads from Viasat.

Development and manufacturing of the first ViaSat-3 satellite will be more than 80 percent paid for by the end of this June, Viasat said. Modifications to the contract for the first ViaSat-3 to include enhancements also contributed to its delay, though Viasat didn’t specify by how much.

In the filing, Viasat said the first ViaSat-3 satellite “will be launched to serve the United States and the rest of the Americas, as well as trans-oceanic routes.”

Viasat said it expects the ViaSat-3 Americas satellite to launch by May 29, 2021, and be operational by Dec. 31, 2021. The other two satellites — ViaSat-3 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and ViaSat-3 APAC (Asia-Pacific) would launch “subsequently,” with ViaSat-3 APAC launching last in the second half of 2022. Viasat has said in the past that ViaSat-3 EMEA will launch roughly six months after ViaSat-3 Americas.

Each ViaSat-3 satellite is expected to have more than a terabit per second of total capacity. Viasat said each will have more than four times the capacity of ViaSat-2, which has 260 gigabits per second, and will enable individual users to receive up to a gigabit per second internet connection.

Viasat has a launch contract with United Launch Alliance for an Atlas 5, one with SpaceX for a Falcon Heavy, and another with Arianespace that on June 17 was upgraded from an Ariane 5 to the next-generation Ariane 6 heavy-lift variant with four strap-on boosters. Viasat hasn’t specified which rocket will launch which satellite, but has lined up vehicles that are each capable of launching the heavy satellites closer than average to the geostationary orbit, enabling shorter orbit raising time.

Viasat told the FCC its diversity of launch contracts ensures the ability to launch ViaSat-3 Americas within a few months of it completing manufacturing.