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International Launch Services (ILS), the commercial arm of Russia’s Proton rocket system, is to launch the much-delayed EchoStar XXI satellite next week on June 8th (at 06.45 Moscow time) from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Echostar XXI has been waiting for the best part of a year for launch, and was needed on station – officially – last year in accordance with its EU-issued licence to operate. The satellite is an S-band craft and will be operated by Dublin-based EchoStar Mobile and is designed to supply connectivity to mobile and cellular devices across Europe. It is set to be placed at 10.25 degrees East.
EchoStar Mobile acquired Solaris Mobile in January 2014. Solaris was a joint-venture established in 2008 and owned by SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris. Echostar then used Space System/Loral to build the satellite, and promised at the time to “to build upon the groundwork laid by Solaris Mobile by most immediately bringing with us access to a next-generation MSS [mobile satellite service] satellite which will support a wide range of innovative services across the European Union,” according to a press statement.
However, key to the launch is the timing. UK regulator Ofcom in March 2015 warned Solaris that its capacity had to be in orbit by December 2016 otherwise they risked losing the licensed spectrum.
That date was completely missed, and not helped by troubles with the Proton rocket and its enforced delays because of manufacturing problems with the rocket’s engines. These delays created major problems for ILS and the manufacturing team, and senior figures lost their jobs.
The last launch of a Proton for ILS was almost a year ago in June 2016 when Intelsat-31 was launched, but not without a problem with the craft’s second stage, hence the delays.
EchoStar XXI is a massive satellite, at some 6900 kgs and it is essential that its giant reflector be unfurled for the orbiting system to work. Proton then has at least three more commercial launches scheduled this year (AsiaSat-9 and Amazonas-5.