SpaceX launches latest SES broadcast satellite

TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX successfully launched Astra 1P for Luxembourg fleet operator SES on June 20 into geostationary orbit, where it will eventually replace four older broadcast satellites in Europe.

A Falcon 9 lifted off at 5:35 p.m. Eastern from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, after being delayed twice in a day due to bad weather.

Astra 1P was placed into geostationary transfer orbit about 35 minutes later, not long after the rocket’s first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean for reuse.

SES was the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX in 2013, and in 2017 the company also became the first to use a previously flown booster.

SpaceX’s booster landings have since become routine, and this mission marked the company’s 320th time landing an orbital-class rocket.

The booster that lifted Astra 1P had previously launched eight times, including four missions for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation.

Long journey ahead

Built by Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, Astra 1P will spend most of this year using onboard electric propulsion to reach its orbital point at 19.2 degrees East, where it is scheduled to complete health checks in time for services start in January.

SES currently provides television services to around 119 million households from four satellites in this orbital country, mainly in Germany, Spain and France.

Astra 1P’s Ku-band capacity would be enough to replace all four of these spacecraft once they are retired, according to SES CEO Adel Al-Saleh.

A geostationary communications satellite is typically designed with enough fuel to last about 15 years in orbit. The oldest SES satellite operating at 19.2 degrees east, Astra 1KR, was launched in April 2006.

SES ordered the Ku-band Astra 1Q satellite from Thales Alenia Space at the same time as Astra 1P in 2021 and for the same orbital position.

But while Astra 1P is a classic wide-range satellite, Astra 1Q is software-defined so it can be reprogrammed to deliver rendezvous missions if needed after a launch expected in 2026.

As the satellite TV market is gradually lost to internet streaming services, SES and other legacy broadcast operators are turning their businesses towards broadband services to meet the growing demand for data.

SES announced $3.1 billion plans in March to buy rival satellite operator Intelsat to bolster its connectivity services amid growing competition from Starlink.

The Luxembourg operator said on June 19 that it had secured a debt package of three billion euros ($3.2 billion) to support the deal.

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