TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX on Oct. 8 successfully deployed the first two of seven satellites Intelsat needs to clear C-band spectrum in the United States, keeping the operator on track to launch all but one of them before the end of this year.
A Falcon 9 carrying Galaxy 33 and Galaxy 34 lifted off at 7:05 p.m. east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and deployed the satellites into geostationary transfer orbit about 40 minutes after liftoff.
The rocket’s reusable first stage also successfully landed on a SpaceX unmanned ship in the Atlantic Ocean after a record-setting 14th flight.
A helium leak forced SpaceX to clean up a previously scheduled launch on October 6, and a follow-up flight on October 7 was also postponed.
It will take about two weeks for the satellites to use onboard propulsion to reach their final geostationary orbit, according to Jean-Luc Froeliger, Intelsat’s vice president of space systems engineering and operations.
Northrop Grumman built the satellites, which will help Intelsat move broadcast customers to a narrower swath of C-band spectrum to give more frequencies to terrestrial 5G operators in the United States.
Intelsat is set to receive nearly $5 billion from the Federal Communications Commission if it can fully vacate the lower portion of the 300 MHz C-band by the regulator’s Dec. 5, 2023, deadline.
Rival satellite operator SES is in line for nearly $4 billion if it can clear C-band spectrum in time — after recently losing a legal challenge to an equal split.
SpaceX launched the first of five C-band replacement satellites in June that SES needs into orbit for its spectrum clearing efforts, and United Launch Alliance deployed two more satellites on October 4.
SES CEO Steve Collar recently said he expects SpaceX to launch its final two C-band satellites late this year or early next.
“Intelsat may not have launched the first C-band satellites, but it plans to launch 6 of its 7 c-band satellites before the end of the year,” Froeliger said. SpaceNews via email.
“By the end of 2022 Intelsat will have launched more C-band replacement satellites than SES. In any case, what is important is to have all these new C-band spectrum clearing satellites in service before the FCC’s December 5, 2023 deadline, which Intelsat is well on its way to doing.”
Maxar is providing the remaining five Intelsat C-band replacement satellites.
SpaceX is set to launch two of them in November, according to Intelsat, and Arianespace is set to deploy another pair in the fourth quarter of this year.
Intelsat said SpaceX will launch the last C-band replacement spacecraft in the second quarter of 2023.