TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX launched the Americas-focused ViaSat-3 broadband satellite on a Falcon Heavy rocket on April 30 following delays in part caused by extreme weather conditions, including lightning and tornado warnings.
The Falcon Heavy lifted off at 8:26 p.m. Eastern Time from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, into geostationary orbit (GEO) on the rocket’s sixth flight since its 2018 debut.
The two side boosters separated from the center stage just over three minutes after liftoff. The boosters had previously supported a total of nine previous missions, however, SpaceX decided against attempting to pick them up this time to improve the rocket’s performance.
The main 6,400-kilogram ViaSat-3 Americas payload was deployed about four hours and 32 minutes after liftoff, followed by two ride-hailing payloads: Arcturus, the first broadband satellite built by California-based company Astranis less than 400 kilograms, and a Washington cubesat. based on Gravity Space with a communication payload.
The mission had at one time been scheduled for April 18, but was postponed to April 26 for undisclosed reasons following a static firing test. SpaceX then delayed the April 26 launch by a day to finish reviewing the data.
However, bad weather on April 27 disrupted this mission. Lightning struck the Falcon Heavy’s LC-39A launch pad tower during the storm, prompting SpaceX engineers to perform checks on the rocket, its payloads and ground systems.
SpaceX aborted another launch attempt on April 28 at T-minus 59 seconds for reasons it did not disclose. With weather forecast again for April 29, the mission was pushed back to April 30.
Long time ahead
The delays were part of a long series of setbacks for Viasat, which had originally planned to deploy the first of three ViaSat-3 satellites in 2019 – before being caught up in production and supply chain issues compounded by the pandemic.
There have been payload, satellite integration and launch delays, Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg said. SpaceNews in an interview, “but the biggest contributor was COVID-19”, which also led to a shortage of skilled workers.
Contact was made with ViaSat-3 Americas about 15 minutes after liftoff, Viasat said, and the satellite will attempt to deploy its solar arrays over the next few days.
Dankberg said it would take ViaSat-3 Americas nearly three weeks to reach its final GEO position at 88.9 degrees West using onboard propulsion, and then another two to three months to complete health checks before entering. in commercial service.
Viasat developed the payload for each ViaSat-3 in-house and uses a Boeing chassis based on the manufacturer’s 702 satellite platform.
Each Viasat-3 is designed to deliver over 1,000 gigabits per second (Gbps) of capacity, about three times more than Viasat delivers over the Americas with the ViaSat-2 satellite launched in 2017.
The second ViaSat-3 is designed to cover Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The third and final ViaSat-3 would cover Asia.
Dankberg said the second ViaSat-3 is currently undergoing final integration and testing at Boeing facilities ahead of a launch this fall on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5.
“The third is about to be shipped to Boeing for integration,” he added, “and we expect it to be launched in just over a year.”
Viasat had a contract to launch its third ViaSat-3 on Ariane 6, Arianespace’s next-generation launcher.
However, Dankberg said the operator was looking to order a different launch vehicle following delays in getting Ariane 6 into service.
In addition to adding a significant amount of capacity, the first ViaSat-3 satellite would allow the company to expand its reach into the Americas.
“One of the really striking immediate benefits of ViaSat-3, once we get it into service, will cover air links to Hawaii,” Dankberg said.
He said the satellite would also allow Viasat to expand its services outside of Brazil to cover all of South America for the first time.
Astranis has reached an agreement to lease the 10 Gbps of capacity on Arcturus to Pacific Dataport Inc. (PDI), a US-based telecommunications operator that plans to use it for internet services across Alaska for the duration seven-year life of the satellite.
The California-based company plans to launch a batch of four more satellites on a dedicated Falcon 9 mission in late summer.
Mobile satellite connectivity specialist Anuvu leases capacity on two of those satellites, Peru-based cellular backhaul provider Andesat has an agreement for another, and Astranis said the fourth satellite has a customer it will announce. later.
Mexican phone company Apco Networks announced on March 14 that it had ordered two satellites from Astranis for a third batch of spacecraft that the manufacturer aims to launch on an undisclosed rocket next year.
Astranis recently raised more than $200 million for its expansion plans in an equity and debt deal led by US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s growth fund.
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