Ariane 5 launches Sky Muster II and GSAT-18

by Chris Bergin

Ariane 5 continued Arianespace’s busy 2016 pace with her fifth launch of the year via the lofting of the Sky Muster II and GSAT-18 communication satellites on Wednesday. The launch – from the European Spaceport in Kourou – took place at the start of a 1 hour 15-minute launch window that opens at 20:30 UTC after high winds postponed Tuesday’s attempt.

Ariane 5 Launch:

The Ariane 5 ECA (Cryogenic Evolution type A) – the most powerful version in the Ariane 5 range of rockets – was employed once again for this flight, a vehicle that is an improved version of the generic Ariane 5 launcher.

Those improvements relate mainly to the structure of the Ariane 5, allowing for an increased thrust and ability to carry heavier payloads into orbit.

Designed to place payloads weighing up to 9.6 tonnes into GTO, this increased capacity allows the Ariane 5 ECA to handle dual launches of very large satellites.

Arianespace now enjoys a full family of launch vehicles.

With the introduction of Soyuz at the Spaceport in 2011, Arianespace’s family was joined by the lightweight Vega vehicle, following her successful debut in 2012.

Arianespace will also be at the center of a new launch vehicle, the Ariane 6, which has been approved by the ESA members.

2016-07-25-223517The future fleet of Ariane 6 and Vega C launch systems may also involve a level of reusability in the future.

This latest mission was designated Flight VA231 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system and was the 231st Ariane mission since this series of vehicles entered operation in 1979.

The launch had an estimated payload performance of 10,660 kg. – a total that factors in Sky Muster II and GSAT-18, plus the dual-satellite dispenser system and integration hardware. Both passengers are to be deployed to geostationary transfer orbit during a 32-minute flight sequence.

Sky Muster II was the mission’s upper passenger and was released first in the flight sequence at 28 minutes after liftoff.

Produced by SSL (Space Systems Loral) for operator nbn, it will help extend high-speed internet across Australia, including the country’s rural and isolated regions.

2016-10-04-142921Sky Muster II was delivered by a chartered Antonov An-124 cargo jetliner, which touched down at Félix Eboué Airport near the French Guiana capital city of Cayenne.

After unloading in its protective shipping container, the satellite was ready for a road trip to the Spaceport launch base for pre-launch processing.

As with nbn’s first Sky Muster satellite – which was launched in September 2015 on another Ariane 5 flight – Sky Muster II is a Ka-band, high-throughput broadband satellite.

“The Sky Muster service is intended to be a game changer for the way people work, learn and live in regional and remote Australia,” said Bill Morrow, chief executive officer of nbn.

“SSL has been an excellent partner in the development of our satellites, and the first Sky Muster satellite is operating well. Now we look forward to continuing to work together as we prepare for the launch of the second satellite.”

2016-10-04-142728Sky Muster II is based on SSL’s 1300 spacecraft platform.

“It has been very gratifying to work together with our colleagues in Australia to help establish a satellite service that brings high-speed internet to underserved users anywhere in Australia,” added John Celli, president of SSL.

“SSL is a leader in building broadband satellites that are used for services that improve people’s lives and open new opportunities for education, healthcare and economic development, and we commend the government of Australia for assuring that all of its citizens have this type of access.”

Deployed from Ariane 5’s lower passenger position was GSAT-18, which was built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to strengthen its current fleet of 14 operational telecommunications satellites.

This spacecraft’s separation occurred approximately 32 minutes after liftoff – completing the October 4 mission.

2016-10-04-143105GSAT-18 is a communication Satellite configured around I-3K extended bus with a lift off mass of about 3425 kg and 6 KW power generation capacity.

The GSAT-18 carries Ku- band, Normal C-band and Extended C-band transponders.

Once in orbit, it will serve as a replacement for operational satellites that currently provide key national services in multiple frequency bands – to be joined by GSAT-17, which will be orbited on a future Ariane 5 mission from the Spaceport in French Guiana.

As the fifth heavy-lift Ariane 5 flight so far in 2016, the launch continued a busy year of mission activity for Arianespace’s full family of launchers, which also has included two flights performed with the medium-lift Soyuz and one using the lightweight Vega.

(Images via Arianespace).

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