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Ka-band capacity over China will not expand this year as previously planned. The ChinaSat-18 satellite launched on 19 August and remains in Geostationary Transfer Orbit where the Long March 3B launch rocket properly placed it. After separation “abnormalities” occurred that prevented the satellite from shifting into its proper orbit.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that a solar array deployment failure is to blame. Without the solar panels deployed the satellite’s on-board battery will likely be depleted by now. This means any chance of recovery is now very, very, very remote. It is expected that the satellite is a total loss.
ChinaSat-18 was intended to augment ChinaSat-16 in delivering Ka-band capacity across China, including to the aviation and mobility segment. In April 2019 the company signed an agreement with Viasat to jointly develop new customer markets in China and to enable roaming from existing Viasat airline customers on to the ChinaSat network.
At that time Viasat’s Don Buchman explained, “China Satcom is now the only satellite operator and licensed service provider in China with the bandwidth resources to deliver the in-flight experience our airline customers have come to expect and depend on. Our partnership is a natural way to extend state-of-the-art services specific to China Satcom’s fleet and the China domestic market, and create a global roaming alliance for our existing and new domestic and international customers and the rapidly growing Chinese global commercial airline fleet.”
Does the loss of ChinaSat-18 affect those plans?
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Also affected by this loss is the satellite insurance market. ChinaSat-18 is the second insured satellite to fail this year. The UAE’s Falcon Eye-1 suffered a failed launch on a Vega launch vehicle earlier this summer. The combined insured value of the two satellites tops $650 million, exceeding the premiums paid in by satellite owners so far this year. Consecutive money-losing years for the insurance companies could drive up premiums going forward, making future launches more expensive.