SES-17 Launched, Considering the Amplifying Commercial Aviation Market

TAMPA, FLORIDA – The heaviest satellite SES has ever ordered was successfully launched by Arianespace. It laid the groundwork for a multi-orbit network that is witnessing increased demand from commercial aviation customers.

Launch of All-Electric SES-17

The all-electric SES-17 satellite, which weighs around 6,400 kilograms, was launched from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket at 10:10 a.m. Eastern on Oct. 23. It was with the Syracuse 4A communications satellite for France’s military. Also, a 1.5-meter fairing extension, the Ariane 5 was the tallest Arianespace has ever launched, standing at 56.4 meters.

SES-17, made by Thales Alenia Space in Europe, is the first fully software-defined satellite, with approximately 200 spot beams. They are capable of reprogramming in orbit to respond to changing mission requirements.

The digital transparent processor (DTP) onboard SES-17, according to SES, will be the most powerful in space. The satellite will reach its orbital slot of 67.1 degrees West in mid-2022, covering the Americas, Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean.

SES-17 will be “the anchor for our expansion for the next many years,” according to SES CEO Steve Collar, who spoke to the media on Oct. 20.

Collar said customers could easily wander as needed from SES-17 – O3b mPower, the improved broadband constellation. It plans to start deploying in medium Earth orbit (MEO) early next year for lower latency services, thanks to a virtualized ground network developed in collaboration with cloud giant Microsoft.

SES-17’s primary objective, according to Collar, will be to serve the aviation business. It also has already taken on in-flight connectivity provider Thales InFlyt Experience as an anchor customer.

Despite the increased demand, Olson claims that SES-17 “will be able to serve upwards of 50% of the whole traffic that would travel in the Americas by itself.”

As airlines shift away from charging customers directly for Wi-Fi to attract business, Collar estimates penetration per aircraft to climb from the mid-teens to 70-80% over the next 3 to 5 years.

Spirit Airlines, which concentrates on the North American market, will serve as the launch airline for Thales InFlyt Experience’s SES-17 services.

Olson denied commenting on the firm’s other airline associates. Spirit and other airlines plan to return to profitability before the start of 2023. Olson said this indicating strong future demand.

Further promises by SES-17

Software-defined satellites like SES-17, which promise to adapt to changing capacity needs as they become more economically viable, may soon become the norm for those in geostationary orbit.

According to Northern Sky Research consultant Brad Grady, just 14% of satellites launched to GEO have “some form of flexibility” in their design. This was compared with the 73% he expects to see in 2030.

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