WASHINGTON — Arianespace on Aug. 6 conducted its first launch since the failure of a Vega rocket a month ago, orbiting two satellites on an Ariane 5 rocket.
The Ariane 5 took off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in South America, carrying the Intelsat-39 communications satellite and the EDRS-C laser relay satellite to geostationary transfer orbits.
The 6,600-kilogram Intelsat-39, riding in the rocket’s upper berth as is typical for heavier satellites on Ariane 5, separated 29 minutes after liftoff. EDRS-C, weighing 3,200 kilograms, separated another four and a half minutes later, completing the mission.
The launch is Arianespace’s seventh of the year, and third using the heavy-lift Ariane 5. Originally scheduled for July 24, the launch was delayed after the July 10 failure of a light-lift Vega rocket, the cause of which is still under investigation.
Arianespace declined to comment on the nature of the delay. The European Space Agency told SpaceNews the delay was to allow time for “spaceport reconfiguration” after the Vega failure, plus some last minute checks on EDRS-C.
Widening the SpaceDataHighway
EDRS-C, which stands for European Data Relay Satellite C, is an Airbus-operated satellite developed in partnership with the European Space Agency. It carries an optical terminal from German supplier Tesat-Spacecom to enable high-speed links with remote sensing satellites in low Earth orbits. Tesat-Spacecom developed the terminals with the German Space Agency DLR.
German manufacturer OHB built the EDRS-C satellite with help from three “sister companies,” OHB Sweden, LuxSpace, and MT Aerospace. EDRS-C is the second SmallGEO satellite from OHB, following Hispasat-36W-1, which launched in early 2017 on an Arianespace Soyuz.
British operator Avanti has a hosted payload on the EDRS-C satellite equipped with eight Ka-band spot beams. MDA Corp., now part of Maxar Technologies, supplied the payload, which completes Avanti’s fleet of four spacecraft.
EDRS-C is the second satellite in what Airbus brands the SpaceDataHighway. The dedicated satellite follows three years after the launch of a laser hosted payload on the commercial Eutelsat 9B spacecraft.
By linking LEO satellites with lasers and beaming data to the ground in Ka-band frequencies, the SpaceDataHighway can transmit information in near-real time, according to ESA and Airbus. That speed stands in contrast to relying solely on ground stations, which can leave users waiting hours for a LEO satellite to downlink its data.
Airbus’ anchor customer is the European Commission, which uses EDRS-C for the Sentinel-1 and -2 series satellites in its Copernicus environmental satellite program. Following their launch in 2021, Airbus plans to use the SpaceDataHighway to link its four Pleiades Neo Earth observation satellites.
A capacity boost for Intelsat, Myanmar
Intelsat-39 carries a mix of traditional wide beam transponders and high-throughput spot beams, providing additional capacity for the company over Africa, Asia and Europe. Built by Maxar Technologies, Intelsat-39 will replace the 18-year-old Intelsat-902 satellite with upgraded capacity in C- and Ku-band.
Intelsat-902, also from Maxar, was designed to last 13 years. The government of Myanmar has been using capacity on Intelsat-902, rebranded as MyanmarSat-1, to support 2G and 3G services across the country.
Intelsat is similarly branding some of the capacity on Intelsat-39 as MyanmarSat-2 for the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Myanmar. The ministry plans to use the satellite to expand internet access as well as the reach of 3G and 4G services.
The government of Myanmar said in 2018 it agreed to pay $155.7 million to Intelsat for the MyanmarSat-2 C- and Ku-band capacity. Myanmar’s Presidential Office said the country eventually plans to operate its own communications satellite, but would start by leasing capacity. Myanmar will also seek to launch a low-cost Earth-observation microsatellite as a learning initiative in preparation for a communications satellite, the office said.
Intelsat confirmed signal acquisition for Intelsat-39 in a press release following the launch. The satellite is scheduled to enter service in the fourth quarter of this year.