May 19, 2024

SpaceX launches Intelsat’s last C-band clearing satellite

TAMPA, Fla. — The last satellite Intelsat needs to claim nearly $5 billion in total C-band spectrum clearing proceeds is performing well after launching Aug. 3. on a Falcon 9, its manufacturer Maxar Technologies said.

The Galaxy-37/Horizons-4 satellite started communicating with ground crews and successfully deployed solar arrays shortly after separating from the rocket, which launched at 1:00 a.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

It will take about three weeks for the chemically powered spacecraft to reach its 127 degrees West orbital position, Intelsat senior vice president of space systems Jean-Luc Froeliger told SpaceNews in an interview.

The five-metric-ton satellite is slated to enter service around the end of September following final health checks upon reaching its geostationary parking slot.

The spacecraft comprises two payloads: Galaxy-37 in C-band for Intelsat’s broadcast customers over the continental United States, and Horizons-4 that the operator partly owns with Japan’s JSAT International for Ku-band connectivity services over the Pacific Ocean and the United States.

Froeliger said the six other satellites Intelsat has launched over the last 10 months for migrating broadcast customers into a narrower swath of C-band, enabling more frequencies to be used for terrestrial 5G services across the United States, are all in position and operating without issues.

While there is still work to do on the ground to move customers and filter antennas, Galaxy 37’s deployment puts Intelsat on track to get a total of $4.9 billion from the Federal Communications Commission by vacating the frequencies by Dec. 5.

Rival operator SES announced during Aug. 3 financial results that it had completed all its C-band clearing tasks after SpaceX launched its final two replacement spacecraft in March.

SES is set for nearly $4 billion in total spectrum clearing proceeds from the FCC, although the operator remains locked in a long-running legal battle with Intelsat over how this windfall should be split.

SES ordered six satellites in total for its clearing strategy, including one ground spare. All C-band replacement satellites and associated costs are being reimbursed by the FCC, which raised more than $80 billion from auctioning off the spectrum to telcos, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. 

Milestone launch

Because Galaxy-37 was not launched in pairs like Intelsat’s other replacement C-band spacecraft, which each had a mass of about 3.5 metric tons, SpaceX was able to place the satellite in a high-energy orbit, meaning it will not have to spend as much fuel to get into place.

Froeliger said Intelsat should get three more years out of Galaxy-37 than the 15-year design life given to its other C-band replacements.

That said, satellites routinely operate beyond their design life. Galaxy-13, which Galaxy-37 is due to replace, also had a 15-year design life but has been operating for 20 years.

Boeing-built Galaxy-13 was Intelsat’s first C-band/Ku-band hybrid partnership with JSAT, which has a payload on the spacecraft called Horizon-1.

Galaxy-37 was also launched on the 40th anniversary of Galaxy-1, ordered by a company that later became part of Intelsat. 

The operator uses the Galaxy brand for its satellites over North America that primarily serve media customers, and there are currently 18 of them in a fleet of more than 50 satellites.

Counting the IS-40e communications satellite launched in April, Intelsat has deployed eight geostationary satellites in the past 10 months, which the company says sets a new record for the commercial satellite industry.

Apart from an Arianespace Ariane 5 mission in December that deployed a pair of C-band replacements and a weather-tracking satellite for Europe, all these launches used Falcon 9s, underlining the dominance of SpaceX’s workhorse rocket.

Froeliger said Intelsat launched 10 satellites throughout 1997 — six years before SpaceX would perform its first launch — but used a greater diversity of rockets to achieve this feat: Arianespace’s Ariane 4, Atlas 2 from Lockheed Martin, and Russia’s Proton.

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