PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Telenor Satellite Broadcasting has selected Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket to launch Telenor’s Thor 7 telecommunications satellite following a competition in which the Ariane 5 appeared as a long-shot contender next to the U.S. and Russian competition.
The Evry, France-based Arianespace launch consortium announced July 5 that the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket would launch Thor 7 in late 2013.
Oslo, Norway-based Telenor had invited prospective Thor 7 manufacturers to include a launch option in their bids. Industry officials said Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., offered a Falcon 9 rocket built by startup launch-services provider Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, Calif., with a Russian Proton rocket, marketed by International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va., as a backup.
Competitor Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, which faced off against Loral in the final round of negotiations for the Thor 7 contract, had said it could provide a Chinese Long March vehicle if Telenor agreed that Thor 7 would be a so-called “ITAR-free” satellite carrying no U.S. components that are barred from export to China. Thales Alenia also offered an ILS Proton as backup, industry officials said.
While the Ariane 5 remains the rocket with the largest commercial market share in terms of satellites launched, the Thor 7 presented a problem. At first, the satellite’s launch weight was viewed as too heavy — more than 3,200 kilograms — for the Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket, which will be imported from Russia and operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport starting late this year.
At the same time, Thor 7 was judged as too light to be placed on an Ariane 5 as the primary customer, and too heavy to be easily fitted into an Ariane 5 as the second passenger on a flight that would carry a much larger telecommunications satellite.
But in recent weeks, it became clear that Thor 7’s launch weight may surpass 4,000 kilograms, making it less easy to place on a Falcon 9 rocket. While an ILS Proton has launched many satellites weighing between 4,000 and 4,500 kilograms, that weight class is not considered optimum for the Proton, which usually carries a single satellite at a time into geostationary transfer orbit. ILS’s principal focus is on satellites weighing at least 5,000 kilograms.
Telenor ultimately decided to purchase the satellite and launch separately.
Ariane 5 almost always carries two satellites at a time, and Arianespace’s challenge was to beat Proton on price without compromising the profitability of the Thor 7 launch. Arianespace officials will now need to find a satellite weighing about the same as Thor 7 for the late-2013 launch.
Thor 7 carries 11 Ku-band transponders to provide backup and expansion for Telenor’s existing television and telecommunications markets. In a first for Telenor, the satellite will also carry a Ka-band payload to provide high-speed data links to maritime customers in the North, Norwegian, Red, Baltic and Mediterranean seas, as well as the Persian Gulf.
It is the Ka-band payload that has made Thor 7 heavier than previous Telenor spacecraft. Telenor spokeswoman Natasha Keech said July 15 the company will not be disclosing Thor 7’s exact launch weight for the moment.