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SES Investigation Delays Next O3b mPower Mission

Satellite operator SES has announced that it will conduct extra tests before proceeding with the launch of its next pair of O3b mPower satellites.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Fri Aug 04 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Satellite operator SES has announced that it will conduct extra tests before proceeding with the launch of its next pair of O3b mPower satellites. The decision comes in response to a glitch that has been intermittently causing power module trip-offs on the first four satellites in medium Earth orbit (MEO).

SES has confirmed the issue is limited to some of the power modules on the next-generation MEO satellites that were launched by SpaceX in December and April. SES says the trip-offs were swiftly resolved without affecting payload performance, but want to ensure a flawless deployment of its services.

The fifth and sixth O3b mPower satellites, part of a series of 11 being built by Boeing for SES, were initially scheduled for a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch by the end of June, they are now targeting a launch before the end of September. SpaceX is also expected to launch the seventh and eighth satellites later this year.

SES has confirmed that the first two O3b mPower satellites have already reached their final positions in MEO, and the third and fourth satellites are expected to arrive at their designated locations later this month. Initial commercial services, requiring only six satellites, are on track to begin before the end of 2023.

The O3b mPower satellites are designed to address the increasing demand for connectivity across various markets, including mobile backhaul, aviation, maritime, and government sectors. Each satellite is capable of scaling up to multiple gigabits per second of throughput, approximately ten times more than SES's first generation of 20 O3b satellites in MEO. The company also operates around 50 satellites in geostationary orbit for connectivity and broadcast services.

Despite the glitch-related delays, SES reported total revenues of 987 million euros ($1.1 billion) for the first half of 2023. Although revenues from the networks business increased by 3.1%, video revenues declined by 5.2% to 486 million euros, impacting the overall business.

In addition to its satellite services, SES announced its successful clearing of a significant portion of C-band spectrum, which was auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to 5G telecom companies in the United States. The company expects to receive $3 billion (pre-tax) from the FCC by the end of 2023 for meeting the Dec. 5 clearing deadline, on top of the $1 billion already secured for reaching an interim milestone in 2021.

SES is currently engaged in a legal battle with Intelsat over the equitable distribution of C-band proceeds. Intelsat is in line to receive nearly $5 billion in total FCC proceeds.

As for SES's plans for the multibillion-dollar C-band windfall, SES has declined to provide specifics but outlined potential options, including paying down debt, shareholder dividends, and growth-oriented investments.