SpaceX launches Eutelsat’s second Hotbird satellite –

SpaceX conducted its 51st launch of 2022 with Eutelsat’s Hotbird-13G communications satellite using its proven Falcon 9 rocket to fly into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The Falcon 9 was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS).

SpaceX said that in order to complete pre-flight checkouts, the liftoff was delayed until the end of the 116-minute window at 1:22 a.m. EDT (05:22 UTC) on November 3.

The Hotbird-13G is the second of three SpaceX flights for Eutelsat planned for 2022, including the previously launched Hotbird-13F satellite and the upcoming Eutelsat-10B mission. Hotbird-13G is Eutelsat’s fourth comprehensive SpaceX mission.

Eutelsat’s Hotbird-13G is the third of four satellites to launch in 2022, including the Eutelsat Konnect VHTS satellite launched on Ariane 5 in September. Eutelsat is a leading broadband satellite communications company that operates satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) and soon in low earth orbit.

The company was founded in 1977 by Europe as the beginning of the satellite communication services industry. In partnership with the European Space Agency, the company launched its first satellite in 1983 with Eutelsat I-F1 using an Ariane 1 rocket. With three successful launches using Ariane 3, the Eutelsat I satellite fleet was completed in 1988.

The launch of the Eutelsat II satellite began two years later, with its last successful launch in 1992. Eutelsat converted the sixth satellite in the Eutelsat II fleet into the first Hotbird satellite. Hotbird has been modified to perform live broadcasts to the home (DTH) when compared to other Eutelsat satellites.

Artist’s impression of twin Hotbird satellites in orbit. (Credit: ESA/Eutelsat/Airbus)

Since then, Eutelsat has launched several satellites into orbit, expanding its coverage around the world. Proton, Atlas, Delta, Ariane, Falcon, Chang Zhang, Ariane and Zenit rockets have supported previous Eutelsat satellite launches. In 2015 and 2016, Eutelsat and the Asian satellite provider ABS launched two satellites marking the first and second flights on a Falcon 9 rocket.

Hotbird-13G is the second in a series of three missions contracted to SpaceX, including Hotbird-13F, 13G and Eutelsat-10B. These satellites are set to launch on the Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launch vehicles in 2021 and 2022. However, with the first flight of Ariane 6 now NET Q4 2023, this caused Eutelsat to transfer the satellites to Falcon 9 for launch. The European Space Agency also made the move with the Hera and Euclid missions, which were to be launched on Ariane 6 or Soyuz rockets.

As a leading satellite operator, Eutelsat has featured several firsts with some of its satellites in the past few years. The Eutelsat W3A satellite was the first to use the Airbus Eurostar-3000 series, a highly reliable satellite bus used by many providers and future Eutelsat satellites. The Eutelsat Quantum satellite, in partnership with ESA and Airbus, is an experimental satellite with a reconfigurable software payload. This satellite will test how the satellite can change its capabilities while in orbit using only software.

Eutelsat’s first launch in 2022 was the Konnect VHTS satellite, using the newly launched Spacebus-NEO with the most powerful digital processor integrated into orbit. The company’s most recent launch was the Hotbird-13F satellite aboard the Falcon 9 (B1069-3) which was proven to fly on October 15.

Hotbird-13F and 13G are nearly identical satellites built by Airbus using the all-new Eurostar-NEO satellite carrier. Eutelsat ordered the two satellites in late 2018 as the first customer of the Eurostar-NEO bus. The bus originated from Eurostar-3000 Electric Orbit Raising (EOR) as a more advanced version.

Hotbird-13G undergoes mechanical tests. (Credit: ESA/Eutelsat/Airbus)

The industry’s final step is to use all-electric satellite buses to remove the standard propulsion unit to cut off the mass of any satellite. This overall reduction allows customers to use heavier and stronger payloads while maintaining a lower total mass. While allowing for larger payloads, this has the downside of a much longer orbital increase from GTO to GEO.

Eutelsat will use the larger payloads to its advantage with Hotbird-13F and 13G to replace the Hotbird-8, 9 and 10 satellites at the 13° east orbital position. The two metric ton payloads will have the same strength with greater resistance to interference as the original three satellites while using only two.

The two satellites have a weight of 4,500 kg with transmitters and receivers with a range of 80 kou. The Hotbird-13G also includes the European GNSS Agency (GSA) L band as the EGNOS GEO-4. EGNOS GEO-4 will improve the global positioning systems of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). To power the spacecraft, twin solar arrays will generate 22 kilowatts of power.

Airbus completed the Hotbird-13F and 13G in early 2022. After a few months of testing, the 13F was the first to ship in September 2022 for launch in October 2022. A few hours after the 13F was launched, Airbus delivered the BelugaST 13G to CCSFS. At CCSFS, the Hotbird-13G underwent its final tests and was integrated into the Falcon 9 payload adapter. The satellite is encased in a 5.2-meter diameter Falcon 9 payload streamer.

2022 was a record-breaking year in terms of launches and reuse milestones for SpaceX. On Monday, SpaceX launched its 50th rocket of the year, the Falcon Heavy carrying the USSF-44 mission. The Hotbird-13G mission marks the 50th launch of the Falcon 9 in one calendar year, and continues to break the Soyuz-U record with 47 launches in 1979.

A large part of SpaceX’s rapid launch capability is the reuse of many of the Falcon 9’s components. On this flight, the proven B1067 booster supported its seventh mission. B1067 previously supported SpaceX CRS-22, Crew-3, Turksat-5B, Crew-4, CRS-25 and Starlink Group 4-34. This time, B1067 was taking 46 days.

After supporting 4-34, B1067 landed on a SpaceX drone ship Just read the instructions (JRTI) and was returned to Port Canaveral on September 23. It was unloaded the same day and laid horizontally on September 27. B1067 has been moved to SpaceX’s HangerX facility in Robert Roads for renovation. On October 21, the B1067 was seen moving for a final refit without reticle fins or for a second stage.

With renovation work complete, B1067 and its second phase have been moved to the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at SLC-40 for final assembly. Along with its payload, the duo was placed on the carrier/composite (T/E). For launch, the Falcon 9 and T/E rolled onto the board and raised vertically.

Final preparations for launch begin 38 minutes before launch with the electronic Go/No-Go fuel-loading reconnaissance. When “go” is given to fire, launch control initiates the autorun sequence allowing the RP-1 to be loaded on both stages and LOX on the first stage.

The second stage of loading the RP-1 was completed about 20 minutes before launch. Four minutes later, the second stage of LOX loading begins. In T-7 minutes, the Falcon 9’s first stage cools its engines with liquid oxygen to ensure there are no thermal shocks to the engines when ignited. The T/E retracts to the launch position of 88.2 degrees at T-4 minutes and 30 seconds.

Fuel loading is completed at T-2 min. Two important events happen simultaneously after one minute: the flight computers go into “startup”, and the fuel tanks begin to pressure flight levels. The launch manager gives the final “go” to launch 45 seconds before takeoff.

In T-3 seconds, nine first-stage engines are required to ignite. After a second, the engines ignite and begin the final health check. Once the engines are validated and producing full thrust, the hydraulic and T/E locking clamps retract, allowing for takeoff.

The Falcon 9 Hotbird-13F launched in October 2022 (Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

Shortly after takeoff, the Falcon 9 began maneuvering the ballpark eastward, hitting its proper flight profile. After 1 minute 12 seconds of flight, the Falcon 9 reaches its maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q).

After burning for 2 minutes and 32 seconds, the nine first stage engines shut down. After three seconds, the first and second phases separate, followed by Second Engine Start (SES) – eight seconds later. The payload streamer protecting the satellite is no longer needed and is disposed of after three minutes 23 seconds of flight.

As the second stage continues toward orbit, the first stage begins with a short stretch of coast. At T+6 minutes and 30 seconds, the first stage begins to burn again. The first, fifth, and ninth engines ignite for a 25-second burn to slow the first stage and protect itself from the stresses of atmospheric re-entry.

After eight minutes and eight seconds of flight, the second stage motor shuts down. The second stage is then in low-earth orbit before the second burn begins. The first stage begins its descent burning after 14 seconds. After approximately 22 seconds, the first stage gently touches the surface of the JRTI. JRTI departed Port Canaveral on October 29 and was stationed at a distance of approximately 670 km.

With a successful landing, the B1067-7 will become the B1067-8 and will return to Port Canaveral to be refurbished for a future mission.

B1062-3 is waiting for JRTI after GPS-III-SV05 support. (credit: SpaceX)

After idle for 21 minutes, the second stage engine ignites again for about 50 seconds to reach the ellipsoidal GTO. Another short six-minute coastline falls before the second stage of the Hotbird-13G fires up at the GTO.

Once separated from the second stage, the Hotbird-13G will begin energizing the systems and deploying the solar array. Over the next few months, Hotbird-13G will use its electric propulsion to lift itself into geostationary orbit. After completing in-orbit testing, the satellite will locate itself at an orbital position of 13° East, joining the Hotbird-13F. Once the two satellites are operational, they will be located over Africa, and will provide broadcast services to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Eutelsat still has another launch before the end of the year. NET mid-November, the Falcon 9 will launch the Eutelsat-10B satellite to GTO on the last flight of the B1049-11. Using the Spacebus-Neo-200 satellite bus, the Eutelsat-10B was delivered to CCSFS via boat on October 29, 2022.

SpaceX still has more launches planned for this month. In early November, the Falcon 9 will launch the near-identical C-band Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites on the last flight of the B1051-14. In mid-November, the Falcon 9 will launch the CRS-26 mission using the new Dragon C211 capsule. Falcon 9 will also launch the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lunar lander around the same time as the CRS-26. Finally, the Starlink mission is expected to be dispatched sometime in November.

(Main image: Falcon 9 B1067 orbiting with Hotbird-13G. Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

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