ViaSat Shifts Satellite Launch From Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5

Artist's conception of a Falcon Heavy launch. (Credit: SpaceX)
Artist’s conception of a Falcon Heavy launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

ViaSat has moved a satellite from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5 as a result of delays in launching SpaceX’s heavy-lift booster. Arianespace plans to launch the ViaSat-2 spacecraft during the first quarter of 2017.

The decision was a result of the shift in the Falcon Heavy demonstration launch from April to possibly September. The Boeing-built communications satellite had been scheduled for the third Falcon Heavy launch at the end of the year.

“We’re extraordinarily sensitive” to service introduction delays for ViaSat-2, [ViaSat CEO Mark D.] Dankberg said, saying the satellite ultimately would generate around $45 million per month of revenue, or 10 times the level of ViaSat-1….

ViaSat is maintaining its Falcon Heavy launch contract, which will now be used to launch one of the ViaSat-3 satellites around 2020, and has booked a reservation for a future Falcon Heavy, also for ViaSat-3, which is not yet a contract.

Ariane 5 is generally more expensive than SpaceX’s Falcon, but [ViaSat COO  Richard A.] Baldridge said Evry, France-based Arianespace met the company partway to secure the business.

“We think we got a good price,” Baldridge said, adding that because early Falcon Heavy launches will carry higher insurance costs – the Ariane 5 now has 70 consecutive successes – the net difference in cost was negligible and keeps the ViaSat-2 program to within its total estimated cost of around $650 million.

ViaSat officials said the company plans to keep its Falcon Heavy launch contract for its ViaSat-3 line of satellites, which will debut around 2020. The company also has reserved another Falcon Heavy launch for a ViaSat-3 satellite but has not signed a contract yet.

SpaceX has experienced repeated delays in launching the Falcon Heavy, which will have three Falcon 9 cores with 27 Merlin 1-D engines as its first stage. The company had originally set a launch date for early 2013.

According to SpaceX’s manifest, the company has the following Falcon Heavy launches planned, all from Florida:

  • Falcon Heavy Demo
  • Arabsat (Arabsat 6A)
  • Inmarsat
  • Intelsat
  • US Air Force (STP-2)
  • ViaSat.

The manifest does not provide any dates for the launches.

  • windbourne

    How soon does the other companies start shifting to Arianespace or possibly Russia?

  • Steve Ksiazek

    With 45 million per month of lost revenue, even a Delta 4 would start to look good.

  • Hug Doug

    If the Falcon Heavy test flight doesn’t go well, OR it doesn’t launch at all, this year, with the chances of it launching in early 2017 not looking good either.

  • windbourne

    Yes, but I suspect that if spacex does not get F9 flight rate up soon, they will lose more

  • Hug Doug

    If they can crank out enough for Falcon Heavy launches, they’ll also be making plenty of cores for regular Falcon 9 flights as well.

  • Hug Doug

    I wouldn’t be worried unless it starts repeatedly getting to be about 2 months between launches. It hasn’t even been a month since Jason-3 went up.

    If SES-9 flies on the 24th (as currently it is scheduled to do), then it will have been 37 days since Jason-3. If then CRS-8 flies on the first of April (ditto), it will have been 37 days after SES-9.

    That’s not bad considering they are recovering from a launch failure and significant modifications were made to their Ground Support Equipment. The RTF data probably showed some areas that need improvement as well. However, I’m confident that the launch cadence will improve as time goes on and any remaining rocket or GSE issues get fixed.

  • Hug Doug

    Also, I strongly suspect that possibly CRS-8, and nearly certainly all subsequent NASA launches will be done from LC-39A. That opens up the possibility of having dual processing at Canaveral, they can up their launch rate simply by having two payloads, rockets, etc. in their process flows at the same time.

  • Vladislaw

    France based Eutelsat Communications just formed a joint venture with ViaSat. wonder if that was one of the conditions?

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    and it won’t be long before some customers (new and existing) will be happy to take a cut-price, flight proven, F9 or FH.

  • Well done!

    SpaceX plays with their costumers.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    Why would CRS-8 fly so soon after the Orbital resupply mission ? Doesn’t Cygnus and Dragon use the same port to berth to the ISS ? SpaceX does need to get that docking adapter up to the ISS however.

  • TimAndrews868

    Looks like CRS-8 is either going to have to be delayed or swapped ahead of the next Cygnus mission. The cargo being loaded into Cygnus has mold growing on its cloth bags and it’s going to take time for Lockheed (they do the cargo prep) to sort it out.

  • Hug Doug

    There are two berthing ports on the ISS, technically you could have both Cygnus and Dragon there at the same time, however I don’t think they would do that just for scheduling purposes.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Ask Tory to fly Dragon on Atlas. Don’t forget to get permission from Putin and CONgress


    Leaders in Space

  • TimAndrews868

    Last time Tory offered to help was when he said he still had DC-X engineers and they could help with Falcon 9 landing.

    SpaceX managed to get the F9 to land like a DC-X.

    I don’t know if SpaceX needs any more of the kind of help Tory would offer.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    A two or three month delay costs ViaSat as much as the entire SpaceX launch cost. We are also seeing that launch delays nullify any benefit of orbit raising with electric propulsion, since SES can’t wait that long to get their Sat into service. Delays have already wiped out most of the 6 month time they allocated to raise the bird to the proper orbital location.

  • TimR

    Is there a primary cause for the delays in the falcon heavy project? One that’s effecting all ‘X programs/projects? Let me throw one idea out there. Personnel turnover compounded by the need to increase staffing. The two can create discontinuities in project development and also slow progress as new personnel require time to learn roles, learn code, procedures and so on.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I seem to recall DC-X had the same landing mode as the Jason-3 barge landing.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Nice updated picture of Falcon Heavy Doug 🙂