SES, the Europe-based operator of a global satellite fleet, has selected two American launch companies to fly its C-band replacement satellites. The contracts, announced on 5 August 2020, outline a single dual-payload launch for United Launch Alliance (ULA) and up to two launches with SpaceX.

Corporate logo of SES S.A. Courtesy of SES

The ULA contract is for the launch of two Boeing-built satellites on-board an Atlas V. These satellites are known as SES-20 and -21. The agreement with SpaceX also includes a dual-launch of two Northrop Grumman-built satellites (known as SES-18 and -19) in 2022. However, in this arrangement SES has included the option for a second Falcon 9 launch. The stand-by launch will be available to place one satellite in orbit at short notice.

This contingency plan is to be utilised in the event of the loss of one or two of its C-band replacement satellites. The necessity of this auxiliary launch shows how seriously SES takes the FCC deadline for receiving a full incentive pay-out.

Comment by David Todd: This will be a blow to Arianespace as SES, which for so long has had its roots in Europe, has usually chosen at least some Ariane launches for its programme. There is a bit of politics at work here, however, with some resentment in the USA over non-US firms receiving C-band compensatory cash effectively from the US taxpayer. If SES can show it is spending this in USA, it may be able to counter these criticisms.