WASHINGTON — Viasat has encountered a problem deploying the main antenna on its new ViaSat-3 Americas satellite. 

The company said late Wednesday that “an unexpected event” took place during the deployment of the large reflector on the satellite after its April 30 launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

“With the integration of its solar panels, the first ViaSat-3 satellite completes space vehicle integration at Boeing’s El Segundo, Calif. factory and is ready for environmental testing,” Viasat said in a Sept. 29, 2022 press release accompanying this photo.

The company did not elaborate on the problem but said it was working with the reflector’s manufacturer to see if and how it can be fixed.

“We’re disappointed by the recent developments,” Viasat chairman and CEO Mark Dankberg said in the July 12 news release. “We’re working closely with the reflector’s manufacturer to try to resolve the issue. We sincerely appreciate their focused efforts and commitment.”

The problem does not affect current services provided by Viasat but does impact plans for new broadband services in North America that the spacecraft would have offered.

Viasat said it is working on ways “to minimize the economic effect” of the problem, which could mean redeploying existing spacecraft or reallocating a future ViaSat-3 spacecraft. Shares in Viasat were down by more than 20% in pre-market trading July 13.

“Exceptionally large reflector”

Viasat ordered the first two ViaSat-3 spacecraft from Boeing in February 2016. A third ViaSat-3 was ordered in February 2019 to extend coverage over the Asia-Pacific region. All three Boeing-built satellites were designed around Viasat-provided Ka-band payloads.

The three-satellite ViaSat-3 system was designed to provide a combined 3 Terabits per second of throughput capacity, a 500% increase over Viasat’s existing fleet.

Viasat highlighted the ViaSat-3 series’ “enormous” reflector as “the heart of [its] newest satellites” in a company blog post last September:

When you look at the rendering of this new satellite, you’ll notice a few major differences from almost any other communications satellite in geostationary orbit. The most striking is the enormous reflector — one of the largest ever sent into space — tethered to an extremely long boom arm. There are also a total of eight solar panels per wing with an overall wingspan of 144 feet, which is approximately the same as a Boeing 767 airliner.

The boom arm tethering the reflector is a direct, but larger, derivative of the James Webb Space Telescope’s mission-critical sunshade mid-booms.

The reflector, key to ViaSat-3’s mission, is exceptionally large for a commercial broadband satellite.

“I worked with reflector suppliers before coming to Viasat, and I’ve only ever seen one reflector that was larger,” said project engineer Jason Roberts. “This is among the largest reflectors that have been flown. It’s huge!”

— Excerpt from “A very large reflector is at the heart of Viasat’s newest satellites“, a Viasat blog post dated Sept. 29, 2022

The reflector can be seen in the Viasat animation embedded below: