Airbus preparing to transport SES-12 satellite to Florida

The SES-12 satellite in the anechoic chamber at Airbus Defence and Space, Toulouse.
The SES-12 satellite in the anechoic chamber at Airbus Defence and Space, Toulouse.

Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse is completing the final tests on the SES-12 Ku-band satellite, prior to it being flown to Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA, ready for launch by the end of March 2018.

The 5.4-tonne all-electric satellite is set to leave the Airbus facility in Toulouse and join an Antonov aircraft for its journey, before being mated to a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher in the sunshine state.

The 19kW SES-12 satellite is the most powerful all-electric platform ever built and features both wide and spot beams. Once launched it will eventually occupy a geostationary orbital slot at 95 degrees east, with coverage from Cyprus in the west to Japan in the east, and from Russia in the north to Australia in the south.

With five solar array panels on each wing for a total wingspan of 45m, SES-12 will be colocated with SES-8 and replace the NSS-6 satellite.

Based on the Eurostar E3000 platform, SES-12 will use an all-electric propulsion system to boost it from its initial transfer orbit to its final operating position, taking up to six months to make the journey.

The all-electric design uses fuel-efficient Xenon ion thrusters rather than chemical rockets, meaning it is lighter than older designs, but will take longer to get to final orbit.

Markus Payer, VP Corporate Communications and Public Relations, SES, said: “It is a big bird, but it shows where SES is today with highly-sophisticated payloads.

“Its six wide beams and 72 high-throughput satellite (HTS) spot beams will allow re-use of frequency to increase capacity, plus bring maximum bandwidth to aeronautical and other users.”

SES-12 features a fully-digitised payload, allowing its bandwidth and power to be reconfigured dynamically.

Elodie Viau, Senior Manager, Spacecraft Programmes for SES, said its orbital slot over the Asia-Pacific area is vitally important to the growing inflight connectivity market in the region.

“In Asia, the connected commercial aircraft market is expected to grow from 1,000 aircraft in 2017 to 5,500 in 2026,” Viau said.

Global Eagle Entertainment announced in October 2015 that it would have capacity on SES-12. Gogo announced in February 2016 that it would also have access to HTS capacity on the satellite.

When “Get Connected’s” Steve Nichols visited Airbus on 13 February the satellite was undergoing final RF checks in the company’s anechoic chamber. The giant satellite was dwarfed in the 30 x 20 x 15.5m shielded room, which uses special foam blocks to absorb RF energy while tests are completed on its antennas’ radiation patterns and gain.

SES-12 joins SES’s current network of seven geostationary satellites and 12 MEO satellites that provide coverage to more than 20 countries in Asia-Pacific.

SES says it now has more than 50 satellites in its constellation with an expanding geostationary HTS fleet. It also has plans for 12 HTS satellites in mid-earth orbit (MEO). These will offer lower latency, with two batches of four O3B satellites launching in Q1 2018 and in H1 2019.

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