BORDEAUX, France – Inmarsat has selected SpaceX to launch a new S-band satellite in 2016, and potentially two additional Inmarsat missions before the end of the decade.
Under the terms of the agreement, the London-based operator expects to use the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle for all three missions, though it has the option to use the medium-lift Falcon 9 as well.
“We believe that SpaceX has demonstrated tremendous successful progress in its launch capabilities and is now a fully credible provider of vehicles to support geostationary missions,” Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said July 2.
Based on the Falcon 9 v1.1, the Falcon Heavy is still in development, though SpaceX says it will debut next year. In the meantime, the company is struggling to launch its third commercial mission atop the low-cost Falcon 9 after repeated technical and weather-related setbacks delayed it by more than two months.
Inmarsat says that given capacity constraints in the launch services market, “securing optionality today is an important business safeguard to mitigate future launch schedule risk.”
The announcement comes amid uncertainty surrounding Russia’s Proton launcher, which Inmarsat has chosen to launch all three of its Boeing-built Ka-band broadband satellites that will comprise the Global Xpress constellation. The first of the three spacecraft, also known as Inmarsat-5 (I-5), was launched successfully last year, though the recent failure of a Proton M/Briz M carrying a Russian federal mission could delay subsequent launches of the second and third I-5 spacecraft this year.
Last month Inmarsat announced plans to deploy a wholly owned S-band payload on a satellite jointly owned and funded by fleet operator Hellas-Sat, a Greek subsidiary of Arabsat. Under the terms of the agreement, Hellas-Sat is co-financing 50% of the $200 million cost of building, launching, insuring and operating the new satellite.
Inmarsat says it also could launch a fourth I-5 satellite on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy vehicle. In October 2013 the company announced the purchase of the fourth spacecraft from Boeing, with plans to launch it by mid-2016. Although the Falcon Heavy was slated to debut this year, SpaceX says the rocket is still in development, and it is expected to conduct a demonstration flight in the first half of next year.
Inmarsat says the Falcon Heavy will provide “certainty for a launch date and cost when a decision is made to launch the fourth I-5, either as a replacement satellite or as an additional satellite with an incremental Ka-band business case.”
Inmarsat and SpaceX have also agreed to terms for a third launch vehicle opportunity that could be used for other future missions, including the launch of a new generation of Inmarsat-6 generation satellites. The company says Inmarsat-6 satellites have not yet been designed or ordered, and that a first launch for the new constellation is planned toward the end of the decade.
Inmarsat says it will make some initial payments on all three launches before the end of the year, and will update their capital expenditure guidance accordingly with the company’s second-quarter earnings results.