Arianespace conducted on Saturday, June 18, its fifth orbital mission this year by sending a duo of communications satellites into space. The spacecraft were launched atop an Ariane 5 booster from the Ariane Launch Complex No.3 (ELA-3) at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. Liftoff took place at 5:38 p.m. EDT (21:38 GMT).
The mission, designated VA230 in Arianespace’s numbering system, marks a new record for a total payload weight orbited by the Ariane 5 launcher during one flight. The rocket sent 10.73 metric tons aloft, including a net weight of 9.84 metric tons for the two satellites. It surpasses the previous record set on Feb. 7, 2013, when the Ariane 5 booster send a total of 10.5 metric tons of payload (9.5 metric tons for the satellites).
The VA230 mission has two passengers: EchoStar 18 satellite for the U.S. company Dish Network and the Indonesian BRIsat spacecraft that will be operated by Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI). The satellites flew atop the Ariane 5 booster until EchoStar 18 separation about 29 into the flight. BRIsat was deployed approximately 13 minutes later. Both spacecraft were inserted into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
Arianespace commenced the VA230 launch campaign in late March 2016, when the teams started preparations of the launch vehicle at the Guiana Space Centre. EchoStar 18 arrived first in Kourou, on Apr. 20, and was transferred to the S5C payload processing facility. Next day, the first fitchecks of the satellite were conducted and on May 2, the spacecraft was transported to the S5B building.
Meanwhile, on May 3, the Ariane 5 booster was moved from the Launcher Integration Building to the Final Assembly Building. One week later, the BRIsat arrived in Kourou and was shipped to the S5C facility. In mid-May, the EchoStar 18 satellite was integrated and encapsulated in the payload fairing. The same activities were conducted on BRIsat two weeks later and by June the spacecraft were ready to mounted on the launcher.
On June 1, the satellites were installed atop the Ariane 5 vehicle and on the next day, the launch rehearsal was carried out. On Monday, June 6, the launch readiness review was conducted and the rocket was ready for its rollout to the launch pad planned to take place on Tuesday, June 7. However, the launch was delayed until June 16 due to a problem with a fluid connector between the cryogenic upper stage and the launch table during the rollout. The start of the mission was postponed two more times because of an umbilical connection-related anomaly and unfavorable weather conditions.
Both spacecraft that flew on the VA230 mission, were built by Space Systems Loral (SSL) and are based on the company’s SSL 1300 bus. This platform has a total satellite power capability ranging from between 5 to 25 kW and can support from 12 to 150 transponders. The bus features a lightweight and high-strength structure, fuel-efficient attitude and station-keeping subsystems, high-efficiency and reliable solar arrays and batteries, as well as advanced command and control subsystems.
EchoStar 18 weighs around 6.3 metric tons and has dimensions of 27.23 by 11.5 by 9.5 feet (8.3 by 3.5 by 2.9 meters). It has two deployable solar arrays that can generate up to 13 kW of power during its designed lifetime of 15 years. The satellite features a high power multi-spot beam, Ku-band payload with 61 transponders.
EchoStar 18 will replace EchoStar 10 at the 110 degrees West location. It will provide Direct Broadcast Services (DBS) for customers in the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
“I suppose if it were possible to drink a several-hundred-million-dollar bottle of Bordeaux wine, tonight’s success is exactly what it would taste like,” said Derek de Bastos, Chief Technology Officer at EchoStar.
BRIsat is smaller than its co-passenger as it weighs about 3.54 metric tons and its dimensions are: 18.37 by 11.5 by 10.17 feet (5.6 by 3.5 by 3.1 meters). It is designed to be operational for up to 15 years, generating 9.5 kW of power by utilizing its two deployable solar arrays. The spacecraft is equipped with a set of nine Ku-band transponders and 36 C-band transponders.
From its orbital position at 150.5 degrees East, BRIsat will provide enhanced secure banking communications for more than 10,600 operational branches of BRI, as well as to some 237,000 electronic channel outlets and nearly 53 million customers across the Indonesian archipelago.
“We are proud to be the first and only bank in the world that owns and operates a satellite. It’s not only a proud moment for BRI, but also for our country, Indonesia,” said BRI CEO Asmawi Syam.
Ariane 5 in ECA configuration that was used in Saturday’s launch is the heavy-lift rocket for missions to GTO and usually carries two telecommunications satellite payloads. It is powered during the initial flight phase by a cryogenic core stage and two solid rocket boosters, followed by the use of a cryogenic upper stage for orbital injection of the payload.
The 180 ft. (54.8 m) tall ECA is an improved version of the Ariane 5 launcher, designed to deliver payloads, mainly communications satellites, weighing up to 10 metric tons. Although it has the same general architecture, some significant changes were made to the basic structure of the generic version to increase thrust and enable it to carry heavier payloads.
ECA is also used by institutional customers for non-GTO missions; for example, launching ESA’s Herschel and Plank scientific missions in 2008.
Saturday’s mission was the 230th liftoff of an Ariane vehicle from the Kourou Spaceport. It was the third Ariane 5 launch of 2016 (86th Ariane 5 launch overall), and the fifth of 12 flights planned this year by Arianespace utilizing its family of the heavy-lift Ariane 5, the medium-lift Soyuz, and the lightweight Vega.
Arianespace’s next launch is scheduled for July 26 when it is expected to send into orbit the DSN 1 satellite for the Japanese Ministry of Defense and the GSAT-18 spacecraft for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The mission will be conducted by the Ariane 5 launcher in the ECA configuration. The rocket is slated to blast off from ELA-3 complex in Kourou.