Mobile satellite communications service operator Inmarsat announced that it has contracted with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to provide launch services for Hellas-Sat 3/EuropaSat, the satellite it will jointly own with Hellas-sat (which is in turn owned by Arabsat). Inmarsat hopes to offer a S-band communications service via its wholly owned S-band payload aboard the spacecraft which is currently being constructed by Thales Alenia Space.
Under the terms of its agreement with SpaceX, Inmarsat expects to use the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle (which uses three Falcon 9 first stages as a core stage and two boosters), but will retain the possibility of using a single Falcon 9 as an alternative, providing further launch flexibility. Hellas-Sat will jointly and equally fund the cost of the SpaceX launch vehicle.
The cost to Inmarsat of the launch vehicle is captured within the previously announced figure of approximately US$200 million for the total deployment programme (including build, launch, insurance and operations).
As part of the deal with SpaceX two further launches for Inmarsat owned satellites have been ordered which Inmarsat will fund. While the identities of these satellites have not been revealed, Inmarsat notes that the fourth Inmarsat 5 satellite which it ordered from Boeing in October 2013 could fly on one of these contracts should its Proton launch in 2016 be delayed. The third launch may be used for one of its satellites in its new yet to be ordered Inmarsat 6 series.
Comment by David Todd: While it has not been formally disclosed, it is assumed that Inmarsat/Hellas-sat was given a heavy discount for agreeing to fly on an untried (albeit derivative) launch vehicle. We assume the Hellas-sat 3/Europasat spacecraft will not be alone on that flight. Given the size of the payload capability of the Falcon Heavy, surely rocket will be launching satellites in multiple payloads e.g. pairs, triples or even quadruples. If it flies successfully and reliably (and there are doubts given that 27 Merlin rocket engines will be firing at lift off), the Falcon Heavy represents a major competitive threat to the Arianespace business.