Falcon Heavy attracts customers looking to capitalize on rocket’s capabilities
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The iconic quote attributed to 1989’s Field of Dreams compelled Kevin Costner’s character to build a baseball diamond in the middle of a corn field, “If you build it, they will come,” – that quote also appears to pertain to SpaceX and their Falcon Heavy rocket as well. While the company has yet to follow-up on the vehicle’s maiden flight on February 6, 2018, it seems that the success of that mission has nonetheless attracted customers to the heavy-lift rocket.
Softening Market or Growing Manifest?
The California-based launch service provider had already booked flights of the Falcon Heavy for Arabsat — the company’s Arabsat-6 telecommunications satellite is tentatively scheduled for January 2019 — and a United States Air Force (USAF) mission, following a couple months later.
The launch for the USAF, a mission comprising 25 separate spacecraft, is part of the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) certification process and should see multiple technology demonstrators deployed on the third flight of the Falcon Heavy.
However, analysts’ projections indicated a softening of the market for heavy launches, which would significantly impact the need for a vehicle like the Falcon Heavy. Indeed, with the Falcon 9’s capabilities having more than doubled since its debut, it appeared there was little call for the most powerful active rocket in the world.
While SpaceX had customers holding options to use the Falcon Heavy, solid confirmations were somewhat lacking. That changed, however, within a two-week period with two companies announcing their bookings on Falcon Heavy.
Newcomer and Veteran Make the Same Choice
On October 16, 2018, Sweden-based satellite broadband provider, Ovzon, announced they had entered into an agreement with SpaceX to launch their first geosynchronous (GEO) satellite on the FH.
“Contracting the launch supplier of our first Ovzon satellite is an important and exciting step for our company. SpaceX offered a very competitive solution with the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle which will gain us access to space in a timely and reliable manner,” stated Per Wahlberg, Ovzon CEO, in a release issued by the company.
Ovzon hopes to have their advanced broadband satellite, which will host some of the company’s own hardware, launch no-earlier-than the fourth quarter of 2020.
“We are honored that Ovzon has chosen SpaceX to launch the first of its satellites,” noted SpaceX’s President and COO, Gwynne Shotwell, in the same release. “We look forward to working closely on the execution of this important direct-to-GEO mission.”
Following just nine days later, veteran satellite operator Viasat made a similar announcement. The company had previously moved the launch of their ViaSat-2 satellite from a Falcon Heavy to an Ariane 5 as the former had seen repeated delays, but kept the option open to use the Falcon Heavy for a future mission. The company exercised that option for the launch of their upcoming ViaSat-3 satellite.
“Viasat sought a ViaSat-3 launch partner that understood our unique mission requirements: to safely and quickly bring a ViaSat-3 spacecraft into orbit, to further our goal of delivering terabits of data from space to meet growing global broadband demand,” stated Dave Ryan, president, Space Systems at Viasat, in a release issued by the company.
“We selected SpaceX as they continue to demonstrate their commitment to advancing space technologies. Their proven technology is both powerful and efficient enough to thrust a ViaSat-3 spacecraft close to geostationary orbit.”
The capability of the Falcon Heavy to deliver large satellites directly to GEO, or nearly so in Viasat’s case, should allow satellite operators to more quickly bring their new hardware online, thus generating revenue sooner than if they had to use a lower, geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). SpaceX, unsurprisingly, looks to capitalize on this capability.
“There are exciting opportunities for Falcon Heavy in the market, particularly for customers like Viasat that need direct-injection extremely close to geostationary orbit,” Shotwell said in the same release. “We look forward to delivering ViaSat-3 to orbit and helping bring Viasat’s latest technology into service.”
ViaSat-3 is tentatively scheduled to launch some time in a two-year window, beginning in 2020.
Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.