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.