Its rush to get more capacity into orbit has forced EchoStar Corp to move its Jupiter 2/EchoStar 19 Ka-band commercial communications spacecraft from its planned Ariane 5 ECA launch to one on a Atlas V 431 which will be commercially operated by Lockheed Martin. A new launch order contract was signed between EchoStar and Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch services in August for launch which will occur in late 2016. The reason why the Jupiter 2/EchoStar 19 spacecraft jumped ship was due to its very large mass. The second half of the Ariane 5 ECA’s launch schedule was already fully booked for very large satellites. Arianespace has to carefully pair large and small satellites for each launch so that the maximum Ariane 5 ECA payload is not breached. EchoStar will retain the Ariane launch contract as part of a previous multi-launch buy for use at a later date.
While a surprise to the launch industry and insurance market, there are few concerns that the move to an Atlas V flight might be more risky. Atlas V vies with Ariane 5 ECA for the title of most reliable commercial launch vehicle. Launching on Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V also had the secondary benefit that the spacecraft would be the sole user and as such the flight plan would be optimised for the Jupiter 2/EchoStar 19 spacecraft, possibly extending its mission life as it would need less fuel for final orbital positioning.
Lockheed Martin would like to offer more commercial launch services. While its launch vehicle is known to be at the more expensive end of the spectrum, its reliability is attractive to satellite operators. However, there are often problems getting a launch slot themselves with most Atlas V launches committed to the joint Boeing/Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance ULA launch operation supporting US military and government satellites.