Heavy rains throughout the afternoon threatened to dampen the mood in Kourou, French Guiana today. The skies ultimately cleared, however, and the Ariane 5 rocket – flight #VA237 – lifted off, successfully delivering two telecommunications satellites into orbit, and with them the promise of a more positive passenger experience (#PaxEx).
The two satellites, Eutelsat’s E172B and ViaSat’s ViaSat-2, each represent a significant boost to capacity and adjustments in the direction the operators are moving, plus a new launch record for Arianespace.
Eutelsat’s 172B will deliver a massive increase in capacity over the Pacific Ocean. The broad beam coverage is significant but the HTS spot beams arcing across the northern part of the ocean and continuing to the edge of Australia are designed specifically for aviation, delivering 1.8 Gbps of capacity over 11 spots. Panasonic Avionics, an inflight entertainment and connectivity partner to airlines around the world, is the primary customer of that capacity, allowing for a significant upgrade in service for aircraft flying between North America and Asia.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) June 1, 2017
The launch of E172B also represents a shift in architecture for Eutelsat. The new satellite is an all-electric model, cutting thousands of pounds of weight at launch. Eutelsat CTO Yohann Leroy pointed out that the Airbus-built satellite is the first European – and world’s most powerful – all-electric satellite and that it was delivered in record time. It is also a new beginning for Eutelsat’s choice in satellite architecture.
That new architecture will continue to be placed into orbit on Ariane rockets. With the comment “Never change a winning team,” Leroy announced an agreement for three more Ariane 5 launches in the next two years – Eutelsat 7C, Eutelsat Quantum and Broadband for Africa.
For ViaSat, a company perhaps best known to airline passengers as providing JetBlue’s streaming class of Internet service, the new ViaSat-2 satellite is what CEO Mark Dankberg describes as moving the firm from being a domestic operator into a regional company and, eventually, a transition to being a global connectivity provider. “ViaSat has been quite successful in the United States in providing aeronautical services and home Internet in a way it has never be delivered before.” The new satellite allows for that to expand into Latin America and the Caribbean Sea as well as across the North Atlantic Ocean.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) June 1, 2017
What started as a “blob” of coverage over the Caribbean five years ago is now a tightly designed collection of spot beams delivering 300 Gbps of capacity across that region.
Adding oceanic coverage enables support of maritime markets and significantly improves opportunities in the aviation space. The company has already secured new customers, most recently Icelandair, thanks to that growth in coverage but plans for far more to come.
That future growth will be in the form of the ViaSat-3 constellation, which is expected to begin launching at the end of the decade. The three VS3 satellites will blanket the planet in Ka-band capacity. One of the three remains unfunded at this point but management continues to express confidence in its ability to achieve that milestone and finish the full network. To wit, Dankberg suggested that the company is “well in the middle of our ViaSat-3 program,” during his comments following the launch.
Finally, Arianespace set a remarkable new record for total payload capacity – 9,970 kg – launched into geosynchronous transfer orbit on the Ariane 5 rocket. The company will continue to push limits for launch capacity, including the development of the Ariane 6 rocket expected to enter service in the 2020 timeframe.