TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX successfully launched Intelsat’s IS-40e communications satellite on April 7, which will help the operator meet growing demand for connectivity in aircraft while carrying its first hosted payload for NASA. .
The satellite has deployed solar panels and is receiving and sending signals into geosynchronous transfer orbit after its 12:30 p.m. launch, its maker Maxar Technologies confirmed.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster that lifted the IS-40e from Space Force Station Cape Canaveral, Florida, also successfully landed on a drone for later reuse.
It will take the satellite three weeks to use onboard chemical propulsion to reach its final orbital slot at 91 degrees west over North America, said Jean-Luc Froeliger, senior vice president of space systems at Intelsat. SpaceNews in an interview.
“It’s a big satellite with lots of connectivity,” Froeliger said, and it will likely take another three weeks to check all of its systems in order to start operations by the end of May.
Equipped with Ku and Ka band capability, the satellite weighed about six metric tons at launch and is designed to have an output of about eight kilowatts.
The IS-40e also carries NASA’s hosted TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Pollution Monitoring) payload, billed as the first instrument to monitor North American air pollution from geostationary orbit.
While Intelsat satellites have carried hosted payloads for other government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Froeliger said this was the first time he had entered into such an agreement with NASA.
Hosting payloads on commercial satellites allows government agencies to avoid the costs of building dedicated spacecraft, while helping the operator fund their expenses.
However, these arrangements are often fraught with logistical and other pitfalls.
The IS-40e’s primary mission is to provide connectivity to aircraft, boats and land vehicles moving over North America, with a particular focus on the commercial aviation market.
Other applications include cellular backhaul and natural disaster rapid response connectivity missions.
“This is our first true high-throughput satellite over North America,” Froeliger said.
The IS-40e’s ultimate location along the equator would make Baton Rouge, Louisiana the closest city in the United States to the satellite.
Intelsat previously covered a narrower swath of the United States with the Boeing-built IS-29e at 50 degrees west, but that satellite was declared a total loss in 2019 after suffering a fuel leak.
Intelsat has been working to strike deals with other satellite operators in the region in its search for more capacity to serve the mobility market, including Hispasat in Spain and Eutelsat in France.
“Third-party satellites are fine when you don’t have your own solution, or if your own solution is lagging,” Froeliger said, “but having your own solution is the way to go.”
Intelsat has one final satellite to launch this year: Galaxy 37, the latest spacecraft in the carrier’s strategy to be eligible for nearly $5 billion in C-band spectrum offset products.
SpaceX is expected to launch the Galaxy 37 this summer. In addition to C-band, the satellite has a Ku-band payload to meet North America’s broadband broadband needs.