The golden halo surrounding SpaceX is a little tarnished this week. It isn’t that the launch company has been without problems but somehow or other the passion – and transparency – of founder Elon Musk and his wish to ‘get things right’ have smoothed over any rough edges SpaceX might have had.
But inevitably the catastrophic Falcon-9 explosion, some 139 seconds into its flight on Sunday from Cape Canaveral, changes everything in the complicated mix that satellite operators depend on.
Investment bankers Jefferies, in a note June 29, posed the question “Et Tu SpaceX?” and suggesting that – unfortunately – SpaceX was now in the most unwelcome position of joining the roll-call of failures. Sunday’s disaster joins the other problems, including Russia’s Proton, and even the Russian-backed Sea Launch which is barely mentioned these days such are its challenges.
The only launch provider which remains whiter than white is Arianespace, with a spectacular run of launch successes (not that it also didn’t suffer problems but they were a long time ago). But Arianspace is expensive (when compared to SpaceX and Proton).
Jefferies points out the delays which will likely delay everyone in the SpaceX queue for about 100 days. This sort of delay seriously impacts the revenue prospects for each and every operator in that queue, especially for Europe’s two satellite giants SES and Eutelsat.
“Eutelsat now sits in the unfortunate position of being delayed by both Proton (Eutelsat-9B / 12 transponders of expansion capacity and Eutelsat 36C /a much larger 38 transponders of expansion capacity) and SpaceX (Eutelsat 117 West B, also a large 40 transponders of expansion capacity) failures,” says Jefferies.
“No single commercial operator has backed SpaceX more than SES,” says Jefferies. “This is reflected in the number of upcoming launches. For SES, the 53 transponders of expansion capacity on SES-9 wasn’t going to contribute much to 2015 growth given the original 3Q15 launch date, but be mostly felt in full in 2016. The 27 transponders of expansion capacity on SES-10 were due to be launched by end of 2Q16 but will now probably be pushed into 3Q16 at the earliest.”