SpaceX launches final pair of O3b mPower satellites needed for commercial services

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TAMPA, Fla. – SpaceX launched a third pair of O3b mPower satellites on Nov. 12, enough for SES to begin service next year from a constellation struggling with electrical issues that have reduced initial capacity.

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Luxembourg-based operator’s satellites took off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, heading east into medium Earth orbit (MEO) at 4:08 p.m.

The Boeing-built satellites separated from the rocket about two hours later, about seven minutes apart.

SES confirmed it has successfully contacted the satellites after launch, ahead of their journey to final positions in MEO, which will take several months via on-board all-electric propulsion.

As is now routine for SpaceX, the Falcon 9’s first stage booster successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean for reuse shortly after launch.

Going commercial

SpaceX was scheduled to launch the fifth and sixth O3b mPower satellites in late June, but the mission was suspended after what initially appeared to be a minor glitch that sporadically shut down power modules on the first four in orbit.

SES said on October 31 that their electrical problems were worse than initially thought, and would significantly reduce operational life and broadband capacity.

Each spacecraft is designed to scale up to a throughput of several gigabits per second – ten times more than the operator’s first generation of twenty O3b satellites in MEO – and continue to function for approximately ten years.

Boeing was originally contracted to build a total of eleven O3b mPower satellites, all of which would be launched by SpaceX.

However, to get the expected performance out of the constellation, Boeing will now supply two additional O3b mPower satellites under a modified contract, in addition to fixes for five of them, delaying their launch by about a year.

The fifth and sixth satellites launched today do not include these upgrades and are identical to the first four, SES spokesperson Suzanne Ong confirmed.

SpaceX’s successful launch on November 12 puts SES on track to deploy a first commercial service reaching 96% of the world’s population in the second quarter of 2024.

SES has distributed and tested more than 160 O3b mPower terminals this year using its existing O3b network for business and government customers, the company said in a press release after the launch.

Ong said SES has not yet booked a launch provider for the two additional satellites under the amended Boeing contract, which the operator does not expect will require further investment due to a risk-sharing agreement with the manufacturer.

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