The most recent satellite required by Intelsat to complete its C-band spectrum clearing and secure almost $5 billion in proceeds is performing well following its launch on August 3rd by a Falcon 9 rocket. Maxar Technologies, the manufacturer of the satellite named Galaxy-37/Horizons-4, reported that the satellite has successfully initiated communication with ground teams and efficiently deployed its solar arrays after separating from the rocket. The launch took place at 1:00 a.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
It is projected that the chemically powered spacecraft will take approximately three weeks to reach its designated orbital position at 127 degrees West. Jean-Luc Froeliger, Intelsat’s Senior Vice President of Space Systems, revealed that the satellite, weighing five metric tons, is expected to commence operational service by the end of September. This timeline accounts for final health assessments once the satellite reaches its designated geostationary orbit.
The satellite serves two primary purposes. The Galaxy-37 payload operates in C-band and caters to Intelsat’s broadcast clients across the continental United States. Meanwhile, the Horizons-4 payload is a joint venture with Japan’s JSAT International, providing Ku-band connectivity services over the Pacific Ocean and the United States.
Froeliger affirmed that the other six satellites launched by Intelsat within the past ten months, all aimed at transitioning broadcast clients to a narrower section of the C-band spectrum, are now in position and functioning smoothly. This transition facilitates the allocation of more frequencies for terrestrial 5G services across the United States.
With the successful deployment of Galaxy 37, Intelsat is making significant progress towards receiving a total of $4.9 billion from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the C-band spectrum clearing process. This progress puts Intelsat on track to vacate the frequencies by December 5th.
In contrast, competitor SES has already completed all the necessary tasks for C-band clearing, aided by the launch of its final two replacement spacecraft by SpaceX in March. SES is expected to receive nearly $4 billion in spectrum-clearing proceeds from the FCC. However, a legal dispute persists between SES and Intelsat regarding the distribution of these funds.
To achieve its C-band clearing strategy, SES acquired a total of six satellites, including a ground spare. The expenses for these replacement satellites and associated costs are being reimbursed by the FCC. The FCC generated over $80 billion through the auctioning of the C-band spectrum to telecommunications companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
Unlike Intelsat’s previous replacement C-band satellites, Galaxy-37 was launched individually. As a result, SpaceX was able to position the satellite in a high-energy orbit, reducing the amount of fuel it needs to reach its intended orbit.
Jean-Luc Froeliger explained that this unique orbiting position should grant Galaxy-37 an additional three years of operational life compared to the 15-year design life assigned to the other C-band replacement satellites. It’s worth noting that many satellites often continue to function well beyond their initial design life. For instance, Galaxy-13, the satellite that Galaxy-37 is set to replace, was designed for a 15-year life span but has been operational for 20 years.
Notably, Galaxy-13, initially developed by Boeing, marked Intelsat’s first partnership involving a C-band/Ku-band hybrid satellite with JSAT, which contributed a payload named Horizon-1 to the spacecraft.
Additionally, the launch date of Galaxy-37 coincided with the 40th anniversary of Galaxy-1, which was ordered by a company that later merged with Intelsat.
Intelsat employs the Galaxy label for its satellites operating over North America, which primarily cater to media clients. Presently, the company possesses a fleet of over 50 satellites, of which 18 are under the Galaxy brand.
In the span of the last 10 months, Intelsat has successfully launched eight geostationary satellites, including the IS-40e communications satellite launched in April. This achievement is deemed a new milestone in the commercial satellite industry. Notably, the majority of these launches were facilitated by Falcon 9 rockets from SpaceX, highlighting the prominence of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 as a go-to choice for satellite launches.
Jean-Luc Froeliger highlighted that in 1997, Intelsat launched 10 satellites, a feat achieved six years before SpaceX initiated its first launch. However, during that period, Intelsat utilized a broader range of rockets, including Arianespace’s Ariane 4, Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 2, and Russia’s Proton. This historical context emphasizes the evolution of satellite launch technologies and providers over time.