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March 14, 2011

Upstart SpaceX Wins SES Satellite Launch

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Space Exploration Technologies – better known as SpaceX (News - Alert) – and SES announced an agreement to put up SES-8 into orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket in 2013. The win is likely to cause heartburn among other launch providers in a fluctuating market.

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Scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2013, the Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from SpaceX’s launch Complex 40 at the Air Force Station at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and carry SES (News - Alert)-8 into geosynchronous orbit. SES-8 will be parked at 95 degrees East next to NSS-6 to add more direct-to -home (DTH) capacity in Asia. At its orbital slot, the medium-sized SES-8 will primarily provide backup and new transponder capacity to India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos; it will also support customers in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Korea.

The firm launch agreement with SpaceX includes an option for a second SES launch, and it supplements SES’ existing multi-launch agreements with its incumbent providers Arianespace (News - Alert) and ILS. Unsaid is that the agreement will also give SES leverage to push both incumbents on pricing.

SpaceX is not being shy about the endorsement from SES. In the press release announcing the win today, Elon Musk said, “The SES deal shows that even the most conservative commercial or government customers can have confidence flying their satellites on the Falcon 9 rocket." The release also quotes SES President and CEO Roman Bausch saying, “After extensive due diligence of SpaceX's technical and operational expertise, we feel comfortable entrusting SpaceX with one of our satellites, thereby encouraging diversity in the launch vehicle sector and fostering entrepreneurial spirit in the space industry… We look forward to a successful collaboration with SpaceX on the SES-8 mission and beyond."

The two-stage Falcon 9 has had two successful launches, including a near flawless second launch that put the company’s Dragon space capsule into orbit and provided a big boost to the company’s plans to provide supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) under a NASA commercial contract once the Space Shuttle is retired this year.

Falcon 9 can put up to 10,000 pounds into geosync orbit, even if one or two engines fail on the first stage. SES-8, being built by Orbital Science using its STAR (News - Alert) bus, will have 33 Ku-band transponders and generate approximately 5 Kw of payload power.


Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf