SpaceX Wins An SES Satellite Launch

By Irene Klotz 
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will launch the SES-8 medium-sized communications satellite on a Falcon 9 vehicle in 2013, under the startup launch service provider’s first geostationary communications satellite launch contract.

“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,” said Romain Bausch, president and CEO of SES, who has encouraged more launch capability to hold down costs. “Falcon 9 ideally complements our roster of Ariane 5 and Proton boosters, as well as our framework launch understanding with Sea Launch.”

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle is being developed to send cargo to the International Space Station via SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. Ultimately, SpaceX plans to upgrade the Dragon to carry crews to the station as well.

“The SES deal shows that even the most conservative commercial or government customers can have confidence flying their satellites on the Falcon 9 rocket,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief technical officer, in announcing the award March 14.

Luxembourg-based SES maintains 44 geostationary communications satellites. The SES-8 spacecraft, under construction at Orbital Sciences Corp., is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2013 to the orbital slot at 95 deg. East Long., where it will be co-located with the NSS-6 satellite to support direct-to-home broadcast delivery in South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as to customers in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Australia, Papua New Guinea and South Korea.

While SpaceX has launched a Dragon testbed to orbit and back — a first for a commercial company — it has not yet delivered a satellite to geostationary transfer orbit. Alan Young, CTO of SES World Skies, told the opening session of the Satellite 2011 conference in Washington on March 14 that his company is moving toward “more generic” spacecraft better able to accommodate last-minute changes that might be required by a launch failure.

As Bausch noted, SES also has entered a framework agreement with Sea Launch to use the Zenit boosters it flies from an ocean-going platform as the launch service provider emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Photo: SpaceX

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