Astranis announced on September 23 that Falcon Heavy rocket of SpaceX will deploy its first commercial satellite into geostationary orbit (GEO) in the spring of 2022 in a direct-inject operation. The San Francisco-based firm, which is building and managing the Arcturus satellite for American telco Pacific Dataport (PDI), had previously chosen Falcon 9 of SpaceX for a flight to the geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) next year as the secondary payload.
As per John Gedmark, who is the Astranis Chief Executive Officer, the satellite will land at its orbital position within days of liftoff as the secondary payload on the upcoming commercial Falcon Heavy mission, eliminating the requirement for months of the orbit-raising from extremely elliptical GTO. At least two Falcon Heavy flights are planned for early 2022, including a US Space Force launch that has been postponed from October and the deployment of the first next-generation Viasat-3 broadband satellite of Viasat Company no later than March.
“There was no particular issue that pushed us to this change,” Gedmark said when asked if the deployment budget was a factor in the decision to swap rockets. “A fantastic opportunity presented itself, and we took advantage of it. This is one of the advantages of our satellites’ size. We can be able to fly as the secondary payload and also have a lot of launch flexibility because we have such a small form factor.”
At roughly 400 kg, Astranis’ satellites are among the smallest in commercial GEO communications market. However, Gedmark confirmed that the launch is covered by insurance. Insurance rates for a Falcon Heavy, which has only flown 3 times, will certainly differ significantly from those for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 workhorse. Even though Space Test Program 2 operation in June 2019 was the final, all 3 Falcon Heavy rockets deployed so far have been successful.
Falcon Heavy is set to launch for the first time on October 9 for USSF-44, a US Space Force mission. Astranis plans to give specifics regarding its insurance at a future date, according to Gedmark.
According to Astranis, PDI wants to lease capability from Arcturus to deliver internet services throughout Alaska, roughly increasing the state’s available satellite capacity and lowering rates for household and wholesale clients to one-third of present prices. Astranis cited studies indicating that Alaskans are underserved in terms of internet access more than almost any other state in United States.
Alaska is also a significant growing market for OneWeb, a firm that hopes to provide broadband services from low Earth orbit (LEO) later this year.
After a recent visit to Alaska, OneWeb Chief Executive Officer Neil Masterson told SpaceNews in early September that the company now intends take-up of its services to be faster than predicted once it goes live. According to Gedmark, the company’s choice to move to a rocket that seeks to get its services up faster was reached independently of other companies’ decisions. He explained, “It was just the greatest way to bring bandwidth to Alaskans as quickly as possible.”