Viasat is seeking to replace Ariane 6 for the launch of the third ViaSat 3 satellite – Spaceflight Now

An extensive test model of the Ariane 6 missile stands on the launch pad in French Guiana last year. credit:
ESA-Manuel Pedoussaut

On the eve of the launch of ViaSat 3’s first online satellite on a SpaceX rocket, Viasat says it has flown the launch of a similar spacecraft from Europe’s long-awaited Ariane 6 rocket, and is considering bids from other rocket companies.

The decision means that the launch contract is ready for acquisition of ViaSat 3, the last of a group of three satellites Viasat is deploying to provide global broadband connectivity from space.

Viasat announced in 2018 that it had selected SpaceX, the United Launch Alliance, and Arianespace to launch a single ViaSat 3 satellite, awarding launch contracts to three industry leaders.

SpaceX is set to launch its first ViaSat 3 satellite on a Falcon Heavy rocket as soon as Sunday night from Kennedy Space Center, after a series of delays throughout April due to technical issues and weather concerns. The second ViaSat 3 satellite is still reserved for launch on ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket in late 2023 or early 2024.

The first two ViaSat 3 satellites will provide internet service across the Americas and EMEA.

But the ViaSat 3 satellite, designed to serve the Asia-Pacific region and named ViaSat 3 APAC, will no longer be launched on Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket, according to Dave Ryan, Viasat’s president of space and commercial networks.

The first test flight of the Ariane 6 rocket, which is being developed by the European Space Agency and the Ariane Group to replace the backbone of the Ariane 5, is now scheduled for no later than the end of this year, after years of delays. Once Ariane 6 is flying, payloads from European governments and the European Space Agency will be the first to fly operational Ariane 6 missions, according to Ryan.

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Some of these satellites were flown in from Russian Soyuz missiles in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, we had to change Ariane because they had difficulties getting Ariane 6 ready for launch, and secondly, when the war broke out, some of the launches they were responsible for had to be moved onto Russian launch pads,” Ryan said in an interview with CBS News.

“We got that later in class,” Ryan said. “It’s so late that we’ve had to put this third satellite up for bid, and we’re evaluating bids now.”

ViaSat 3 during a ground test. Credit: Visa

Viasat, headquartered in Carlsbad, California, is deploying the ViaSat 3 constellation of three satellites in geosynchronous orbit to expand the reach of consumer Internet service from the Americas to global markets. Each Boeing ViaSat 3 satellite has a launch mass of more than 6 metric tons (more than 13,000 pounds), and carries the Ka-band communications payload developed by Viasat.

The heavy weight of the ViaSat 3 satellites, and Viasat’s preference for launchers to place satellites close to their final operating altitude, likely means that the company will consider only the most powerful commercial rockets available for the ViaSat 3 APAC mission.

The final Ariane 5 launch is scheduled for June, and all of ULA’s remaining Atlas 5 rockets are being reserved until the company retires in favor of the new Vulcan Centaur rocket. Japan’s new H3 rocket, which may technically be capable of launching a heavy satellite like the ViaSat 3 spacecraft, failed on its inaugural launch in February.

Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket is not expected to be available for a commercial mission in time for when Viasat says its third satellite, ViaSat 3, will be ready for launch in mid-2024.

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This makes SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and ULA’s Vulcan rocket the likely contenders for the ViaSat 3 launch contract for the Asia-Pacific region.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @employee.

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