The launch industry is in a very deep mess. The past few days have seen SpaceX cancel three planned launches for satellite operator Orbcomm. The best the rocket company can do is to launch the first week of July, says the company.
But this delay has severely impacted AsiaSat of Hong Kong. They have two satellites on the SpaceX launch manifest (AsiaSat-8 and AsiaSat-6) and both were contracted to be launched between March and May this year, and earning revenues within 30 to 45 days after launch. AsiaSat-8 is already at SpaceX’s launch facility at Cape Canaveral ready and waiting for launch. Coincidentally, AsiaSat had prudently booked an alternate rocket company, International Launch Services (ILS), just in case delays occurred. But in a cruel twist of fate, ILS is also suffering with its Russian Proton rocket also grounded because of technical problems.
The additional challenge is that SpaceX have firm obligations to launch nine satellites this year (including an important satellite for Spacecom’s Amos operation). Earlier in June SpaceX said they were confident of making seven of those launches happen. The Orbcomm flight was one of those seven.
Each of SpaceX’s customers is, of course, important, but some are more pressing than others. Three of those launches are for NASA, and for the delivery of supplies to the International Launch Station and were scheduled for August, September and December.
SpaceX says it hopes to improve on its current – about – one a month launches, to two a month by year-end. But the current rate is not speeding up but slowing down.