Sometime in 2021 SpaceX Falcon Heavy will be launching a next generation broadband satellite from pad 39A at the Kentucky Space Center. There will be a three-way split for Viasat’s launch contracts.
Back in October, 2018, this launch contract was the second one signed by SpaceX in the recent weeks. On October 16th, 2018, the swedish company, Ovzon announced that its Falcon Heavy rocket would haul its first geostationary communications satellite to orbit, as soon as the satellite is ready to launch.
It was widely anticipated by industry officials that Viasat would make a launch agreement with SpaceX for a Falcon Heavy launch. Viasat moved the launch of ViaSat-2 from a Falcon Heavy rocket to a European Ariane 5 launcher back in 2016. This was to keep options open about putting one of the new-generation broadband satellites on a future Falcon Heavy flight.
The first two satellites designed for broadband internet services that Viasat launched, ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2 covered a good part of North America, but the next project Viasat has planned will expand the network's reach globally. These coverage zones will cover the Americas, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific region. Two ViaSat-3 series satellites have been ordered from Boeing, and another manufacture will be chosen this year for the third satellite.
Viasat said the SpaceX heavy-lifter would deploy the Viasat-3 satellite extremely close to its final destination more than 22,000 miles in geostationary orbit, in their statement announcing the Falcon Heavy contract.
A coast will be needed by the Falcon Heavy’s second stage, because of the high altitude, that could last multiple hours before the upper stage’s merlin engine is reignited. A demonstration was done of the long-duration flight capabilities for a six hour coast between the upper stage engine burns on the Falcon Heavy’s inaugural test flight. This test propelled a Tesla Roadster on a fast trajectory into the solar system and away from earth.
Dave Ryan, the president of space systems at Viasat said that Viasat was looking for a partner who understood their mission requirements: to bring ViaSat-3 spacecraft into orbit the safest and fastest way possible, to meet the growing global broadband demand by continuing to get better at delivering data into space. SpaceX was selected because of their continuing commitment to advance space technologies. The technology they have shown is both efficient and powerful enough to get ViaSat-3 satellites close to geostationary orbit.
By getting the spacecraft as close as possible to geostationary orbit, the time it takes to circularize its orbit will decrease and expedite the start of the in-orbit testing and the mission. On the ViaSat-3 satellites Boeing built, they will use an all-electric propulsion package and a fuel efficient thruster system that saves weight. It will take months to put this spacecraft into geostationary orbit on most launches from a standard elliptical geostationary transfer orbit.
Viasat has made an effort to diversify its launch bookings for the ViaSat-3 program. In 2016, Arianespace agreed with Viasat to launch one of Viasat-3 satellites with their Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. In September 2018, Viasat made another contract with United Launch Alliance, that Atlas 5 rocket will carry the payload from Cape Canaveral and this one will also release its payload in a “high-energy” transfer orbit to reduce the satellites transit time to geostationary altitude.
The reason for the diverse launch choices is to ensure the spacecraft launches are on time through diversity and a systematic, integrated approach to launch planning. Viasat also announced that they would give more detail to specific ViaSat-3 mission assignments for each launch at a later date.
The cost of the first two ViaSat-3 missions is expected to be between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion, including the launch, satellite, payload expenses, and insurance. The coverage of the first two satellites will be over North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa regions.
More than a terabit per second of Ka-band network capacity will be provided by each satellite on Viasat’s third generation network. This will provide connectivity to remote customers, ships outside the reach of traditional networks, and airliners.
With the contract that Viasat signed, and the contract SpaceX’s Ovzon signed earlier, the Falcon Heavy has a backlog for 5 confirmed missions. Two are from the U.S Air Force, and three more for Arabsat, Ovzon, and Viasat.
Inmarsat, the London-based satellite company has a launch reservation for the Falcon Heavy flight as well, but there is not a confirmed payload for the mission yet.