ILS places Echostar-21 into orbit

Dublin-based Echostar Mobile, a subsidiary of Echostar of Denver, has its massive E-21 satellite on its way to orbit. The launch, by an International Launch Services/Proton rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (03.45am GMT Thursday, 11.45 EDT Wednesday evening). ILS were justifiably proud of their achievement. It was the heaviest-ever craft taken into space by a Proton rocket.

The Echostar-21 satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral can now, at long last, start fulfilling its mission, which is to provide mobile voice and data communications over Europe. The satellite had been ready for launch for the best part of a year, and the delay has meant that Echostar has missed an obligatory ‘on station’ date set by the European Commission.  The EU originally assigned frequencies for the project in 2008 with a requirement that 60 per cent of the European land mass (and thus the EU’s member states) had to be covered, and brought into use.

The order for the ILS/Proton launch was signed back in May 2013, and the original plan was for a launch of E-21 towards the end of 2015.

The frequencies and assets of Echostar Mobile started life as Solaris Mobile, a joint-venture between Eutelsat and SES. Echostar bought Solaris in January 2014 paying $175 million. The giant transmission antenna on the original S-Band satellite, launched in 2009, and operated from Eutelsat W2A/10A (and still does) and supplies capacity in the 2 GHz band over much of Europe. However, the antenna on Eutelsat W2A/10A failed to correctly deploy on launch.

The original scheme for S-band use in Europe was rather predicated on the deployment of DVB-H (for handheld) cellular devices and capable of delivering video as part of the overall service. The Solaris Mobile payload on Eutelsat W2A/E-10A was ordered in 2008 and the spectrum formally allocated by the EU in 2009 and with rights extending for 18 years.

Echostar-21 is now in its geostationary transfer orbit, and it will be interesting to see how much progress has been made by Echostar itself in tying up Complementary Ground Segment coverage to receive and handle traffic and data from the satellite. DVB-H never took off, but one can only hope that Echostar Mobile can make a good business out of its new asset.

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