SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches the first ViaSat-3 satellite

SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches the first ViaSat-3 satellite

TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX launched the Americas-focused ViaSat-3 broadband satellite on a Falcon Heavy rocket April 30 after delays were caused in part by severe weather, including lightning and tornado warnings.

The Falcon Heavy lifted off east of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:26 p.m. heading for geostationary orbit (GEO) on the rocket’s sixth flight since its debut in 2018.

Both lateral boosters separated from the core stage a little over three minutes after liftoff. The boosters had previously supported a total of nine previous missions, but SpaceX decided not to attempt to restore them this time to improve the rocket’s performance.

The primary payload of 6,400 kilograms ViaSat-3 Americas was deployed approximately four hours and 32 minutes after launch, followed by two rideshares: Arcturus, the first broadband satellite built by California-based company Astranis at under 400 kilograms, and a Cubesat Washington -based gravity space with a communications payload.

The mission was originally scheduled for April 18, but was pushed back to April 26 after a static fire test for unknown reasons. SpaceX then delayed the April 26 launch by a day to complete data reviews.

However, severe weather on April 27 disrupted this mission. During the storm, lightning struck the tower of Falcon Heavy’s LC-39A launch pad, prompting SpaceX engineers to review the rocket, its payloads and ground systems.

SpaceX aborted another launch attempt on April 28 at T-minus 59 seconds for reasons not disclosed. As poor weather conditions were again forecast for April 29, the mission was postponed to April 30.

After a long awaited time

The delays were part of a long-running series of setbacks for Viasat, which originally planned to deploy the first of three ViaSat-3 satellites in 2019 – before becoming embroiled in manufacturing and supply chain issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

There were payloads, satellite integration and launch delays, said Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg SpaceNews in an interview, “but the biggest single factor was COVID-19,” which also created a skills shortage.

Contact with ViaSat-3 Americas was made about 15 minutes after launch, Viasat said, and the satellite will try to deploy its solar panels in the coming days.

Dankberg said it will take nearly three weeks for ViaSat-3 Americas to reach its final GEO position at 88.9 degrees West with onboard propulsion, and then another two to three months to complete health checks before going into commercial service service goes.

Viasat has 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 more than 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 will 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’s facilities before launching on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 this fall.

“The third is in the process of being delivered 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 launch vehicle.

However, Dankberg said that after delays in bringing Ariane 6 into service, the operator is trying to order another launch vehicle.

The first ViaSat-3 satellite would not only allow the company to add a significant amount of capacity, but also expand its reach in the Americas.

“One of the really noticeable immediate benefits of ViaSat-3, once we get that up and running, will be the coverage of flight routes to Hawaii,” Dankberg said.

He said the satellite would also allow Viasat to expand services from Brazil to cover all of South America for the first time.

Get a ride

Astranis has entered into a deal to lease the 10Gbps capacity on Arcturus to Pacific Dataport Inc. (PDI), a US-based telecoms company that plans to lease it for Internet service throughout Alaska over the satellite’s seven-year lifetime to use.

The California company plans to launch a series of four more satellites on a dedicated Falcon 9 mission in late summer.

Mobile satellite connectivity specialist Anuvu is leasing capacity on two of those satellites, Peru-based cellular backhaul provider Andesat has an agreement on another, and Astranis said the fourth satellite has a customer it will announce later.

Mexican telecoms company Apco Networks announced March 14 that it has ordered two satellites from Astranis for a third batch of spacecraft that the maker plans to launch next year on an undisclosed rocket.

Astranis recently raised more than $200 million for its expansion plans in an equity and debt venture led by US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s growth fund.

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