Considering the Internet bandwidth constraints being experienced by passengers on board aircraft today, it could be argued that the failed launch of an Intelsat Ku-band satellite designed to cover North Atlantic routes couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
On 1 February Intelsat announced that the launch of its Intelsat 27 satellite failed approximately 40 seconds after liftoff. A Zenit 3SL launch vehicle was carrying the satellite built by Boeing.
Intelsat 27 was to operate from 304.5º East, an orbital location currently occupied by Intelsat 805 and Galaxy 11. The satellite was designed to serve customers in North America, South America, the North Atlantic and Europe. Crucially, it was earmarked to support the Ku-band capacity requirements of inflight connectivity providers Panasonic Avionics and Gogo, and in turn their airlines customers.
“We are clearly disappointed with the outcome of the launch. The cause of the failure is unknown, but we will work closely with our launch and manufacturing partners to determine the necessary next steps,” said Intelsat CEO David McGlade in a statement.
Asked by the APEX editor’s blog if Intelsat has decided on a timeline for replacing the Intelsat 27 (IS-27) satellite, and what the firm is telling its inflight connectivity partners, an Intelsat spokeswoman said: “The rocket failure was a disappointing end to the Intelsat 27 program. I am not at liberty to discuss the detailed conversations that are underway with our mobility and other customers of IS-27.” However, she noted, Intelsat is working with each customer “to understand potential solutions”.
Panasonic Avionics currently supports Lufthansa’s Ku-band satellite-based inflight connectivity solution, FlyNet. Lufthansa’s Star Alliance partner United Airlines is also in the process of rolling out Panasonic’s so-called eXConnect connectivity offering, as are multiple other operators.
A Panasonic spokesman says: “Like most inflight connectivity service providers, Panasonic had contracted for a sizable amount of capacity on Intelsat 27. Fortunately, we have been very proactive and have already secured as much available Ku-band transponder as possible to support aircraft flying over this region. We expect that there will be an impact on our service, but it will be minimal.”
Separately, Gogo has been laying the groundwork to bring inflight Internet service to the long-haul fleets of Delta Air Lines and other carriers operating on international routes. It recently inked a multi-year, multi-transponder contract to use Ku-band satellite capacity on Intelsat 19, Intelsat 21, Intelsat 22 and Intelsat 27 satellites.
But, significantly, Gogo also holds a deal with SES to use Ku capacity from SES’s so-called NSS-703 “and its three powerful spot beams”, which will reach across the North Atlantic.
“The unsuccessful launch of Intelsat 27 will have minimal impact on our Ku plans and we don’t expect it to delay the timing of the launch or rollout of our service,” says a Gogo spokesman.
Panasonic, meanwhile, says it has not contracted with SES for any Ku capacity. “We are currently using Telesat for Ku-band capacity over the Atlantic. We’ve looked at SES in the past, and may do so again, but their coverage is not optimal for our business,” says the Panasonic spokesman.