WASHINGTON — European launch provider Arianespace completed its first launch of the year Jan. 16, sending two communications satellites into geostationary transfer orbits.
The Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from the Guiana Space Center at 4:05 p.m. Eastern with the 3,600-kilogram Eutelsat Konnect satellite and the 3,400-kilogram GSAT-30 satellite.
Eutelsat Konnect separated from the rocket’s upper stage about 28 minutes later, followed by the Indian space agency ISRO’s GSAT-30 satellite after another 10 minutes.
Eutelsat Konnect is both a technology milestone for Europe and a tactical gambit for Eutelsat after the company abandoned plans to invest in a Viasat satellite two years ago.
The European and French space agencies helped fund the satellite because it uses a new Neosat satellite platform intended to lower the cost of manufacturing. The goal of the Neosat program is to give European manufacturers an edge over competitors in the U.S. and Asia.
Thales Alenia Space built the all-electric satellite on its Neosat bus, which it brands Spacebus Neo. Eutelsat Konnect took four years to produce, Yohann Leroy, Eutelsat’s deputy CEO, said in a post-launch speech.
“Beyond Eutelsat, this is the success of a European dream team,” Leroy said.
Paris-based Eutelsat originally intended to use the Konnect satellite’s 75 gigabits-per-second of capacity solely to provide internet access in Africa, but in April 2018 the company cancelled plans to invest in Viasat’s 1 terabit-per-second ViaSat-3 EMEA satellite. Eutelsat then split Konnect’s capacity to cover Western Europe and get a head start over Viasat, whose Europe, Middle East and Africa-focused ViaSat-3 satellite isn’t expected to launch until mid-to-late 2021.
Peter Newell, Eutelsat’s program manager for Konnect, said the Ka-band satellite will initially cover 15 countries in Europe and 45 countries in Africa. The satellite’s coverage can later be reallocated fully to Africa, he said.
Eutelsat has a larger very high-throughput satellite called Konnect VHTS planned for launch in 2022. The 500 gigabits per second Konnect VHTS satellite is fully dedicated to European broadband.
Thales Alenia Space is building Konnect VHTS as well, also using a Spacebus Neo platform.
Leroy said Eutelsat Konnect should reach its orbital location this summer, and begin commercial service in the fall. General Dynamics and Hughes Network Systems are building the ground infrastructure for the satellite, he said.
Thales Alenia Space has sold seven Spacebus Neo satellites since the program began in 2015. Airbus Defence and Space, which also has a Neosat platform it brands Eurostar Neo, has sold four.
Jan Woerner, director general of the European Space Agency, hailed the success of the Neosat program.
“Now we are in 2020 and 11 of these satellites are already sold,” he said. “This is a tremendous success.”
Magali Vaissiere, the departing director of ESA’s Telecommunications and Integrated Applications division, spearheaded the Neosat program, Woerner said.
Woerner said 17 countries contributed to the Neosat program.
GSAT-30 ensures continuity of service
ISRO’s GSAT-30 satellite is a replacement for the 15-year-old INSAT-4A satellite. Like its predecessor, GSAT-30 carries 12 transponders in Ku-band and another 12 in C-band.
GSAT-30’s Ku-band coverage is concentrated over India, while its C-band capacity extends out to Europe, across much of Asia and out to Australia. ISRO built the satellite and will operate it, providing broadcast and broadband communications services.
GSAT-30 uses chemical propulsion.