WASHINGTON — European launch provider Arianespace completed the first Ariane 5 mission of the year Feb. 5, lofting two telecom satellites into geostationary transfer orbits.
The Ariane 5, Europe’s heavy-lift rocket, took off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 4:01 p.m. Eastern. Saudi Geostationary Satellite-1/Hellas Sat-4, a hefty 6,500-kilogram “condominium satellite,” carrying payloads for two operators, separated from the launcher’s upper stage after 27 minutes. GSAT-31, a 2,540-kilogram satellite for the Indian Space Research Organisation, separated 42 minutes after liftoff.
From geostationary transfer orbit, the satellites will use onboard propulsion to circularize into their nominal orbits 36,000 kilometers above the Earth.
The launch is particularly significant for Lockheed Martin, as SaudiGeoSat-1/Hellas Sat-4 is the first commercial satellite to use the company’s modernized LM2100 platform.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat purchased the satellite, which is divided into SaudiGeoSat-1 for KACST, the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, and Hellas Sat-4 for Arabsat’s subsidiary Hellas Sat of Greece and Cyprus.
Lockheed Martin said last year it had invested around $300 million on a tech refresh for the platform to increase its competitiveness in the geostationary satellite market. The LM2100 features more than two dozen upgrades, including new avionics, flexible solar arrays and a reprogrammable mission processor.
In a post-launch speech, Guy Beutelschies, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of commercial satellite solutions, described SaudiGeoSat-1/Hellas Sat-4 as the “largest and most powerful commercial communications satellite that we’ve ever built.”
SaudiGeoSat-1 carries a Ka-band payload for connectivity services across the Gulf Cooperative Council region. Hellas Sat-4 features Ku-band capacity covering Europe, the Middle East and South Africa. The so-called condosat has a design life of 15 years, with enough fuel onboard to last for 23 years.
Arabsat has a second LM2100 satellite, Arabsat-6A, slated to launch later this year on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
GSAT-31 was built by ISRO, and is designed to last more than 15 years, though the operator did not specify by how much. Geostationary communications satellites are typically designed to last 15 years, but it is not uncommon for them to continue to function for several additional years.
GSAT-31 will cover the Indian subcontinent with Ku-band beams for television broadcasting, cellular backhaul and very small aperture terminal connectivity. The satellite joins ISRO’s fleet of 18 communications satellites, providing continuity of service for the Insat-4CR and Insat-4A, according to the agency.
Arianespace’s next launch is a Soyuz mission from French Guiana with the first six low-Earth-orbit broadband satellites for OneWeb. Stéphane Israël, Arianespace CEO, said in a speech following today’s Ariane 5 launch that the OneWeb mission is tentatively planned for Feb. 22. That mission slipped three days after the discovery of a technical issue with the Soyuz rocket.
Arianespace anticipates launching at least 12 times this year, of which five missions are Ariane 5 dual launches with two satellites each.