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High-Tech Satellite Launch Paves Way For Free In-Flight Wifi

SES-17 was successfully launched into orbit from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on 23 October, following a 24-hour delay.

Originally scheduled for 22 October, the launch was put back when Arianespace detected a “red condition” on the Ariane 5 launcher. The “anomaly”, which was reportedly linked to the pressurisation of the rocket’s main cryogenic stage, was corrected by Saturday.

The geo satellite was one of two commercial satellites to be carried by the mission, along with a Syracuse 4A military communications satellite for the French defence ministry.

Weighing 6,400 kilos and measuring 46 metres in width, SES-17 is the largest satellite in the fleet of Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES. It was built by Thales Alenia Space and equipped with ground-breaking new technology, including electric propulsion to reduce launch mass in terms of propellant needs and an innovative thermal control, the Mechanically Pumped Loop. It also features the most-advanced digital transparent processor “ever to be in orbit”. Working with SES’ O3b fleet of mPower mid-Earth orbit satellites, SES-17 will serve the market for high-speed connectivity across South America, North America, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. The operator anticipates an explosion in demand for passenger connectivity in commercial aviation and cruise ships.

Speaking at a virtual round-table discussion ahead of the planned launch on 20 October, SES CEO Steve Collar said over the next five years he expected to see many airlines moving to free in-flight connectivity. “A global network using mPower is vital because aircraft do not stay on one route, so flexibility between space and ground and satellite-to-satellite is all seamless,” he said.

The anchor customer for SES-17 will be Thales InFlyt Experience, which plans to deliver connectivity for commercial airlines flying across the Americas. According to Advanced Television, it has already been contracted to supply Spirit Airlines to serve airline passenger.

Other application segments outlined by SES include offering internet to schools, businesses and homes in previously unconnected areas through its high-throughput spot beams, and in remote regions where mines and pipelines are located. The lifetime of the satellite is expected to be 15 years.

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