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SES prepares SES-12 high throughput satellite for launch

The new SES-12 satellite, in Toulouse prior to transport to Cape Canaveral The new SES-12 satellite, in Toulouse prior to transport to Cape Canaveral

SES’ latest satellite, SES-12, has been unveiled for the first time to a group of journalists at Airbus Defence and Space’s headquarters in Toulouse, France, as it undergoes final tests before transport to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for launch in March 2018.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}Airbus won the contract to construct the all-electric SES-12 in 2014, and says it is the largest and most powerful satellite built to date, with a launch mass of 5,400 kg and 19 KW of power. It features a high throughput satellite (HTS) flexible multi-beam processed payload for broadband services, which will be directed over the Asia Pacific region.

Featuring both wide and spot beams, the satellite will occupy a geostationary orbit at 95° East, providing service from Cyprus in the West to Japan in the East, and from Russia in the North to Australia in the South. The satellite will operate in the Ku and Ka-bands, with more than 76 active transponders and eight antennas.

Elodie Viau, manager, spacecraft programmes at SES, told Digital Ship that "SES-12 represents an increasing capacity and better flexibility for maritime applications. The satellite has a processor onboard that connects every beam above the capabilities of the previous SES-14 and SES-15 satellites."

The addition of SES-12 in the Asia Pacific region will complement the coverage provided by SES-14 (launched January 2018 and covering Latin America, the Caribbean, and the North Atlantic) and SES-15 (launched May 2017 and covering Latin America and North America).

Once in Florida, SES-12 will be launched on a SpaceX pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The satellite will use electric propulsion to bring it to geostationary orbit at 36,000 km above the equator.

This journey could take up to six months to complete, SES says, slightly longer than other satellites would usually take due to its reliance on electric Xenon ion thrusters, but with the benefit of the hardware being lighter than previous satellites. Once in position, SES-12 is expected to remain in orbit for its lifetime of at least fifteen years.

SES-12 is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform from Airbus and is the third in its Electric Orbit Raising (EOR) series, which rely on electric propulsion. Once launched, SES-12 will use robotic arms to orientate the satellite’s electric propulsion thrusters and to control thrust direction and attitude during the different phases of the mission.

Ms Viau told Digital Ship that SES-12 has taken 39 months to build, with three to four hundred engineers and project staff working on it during this time. The next challenge is to construct similar satellites within just 18 months, with the aim of eventually reducing the build time to as little as 12 months.

"We’re looking at trying to build three years of construction in just 18 months now, so we’re having to completely change our approach," she said.

"We have to look at different ways of building and testing. In space, the radiation and temperature are very different to here, so testing takes a while, but our approach now will have to change to fit this shorter time period."{/mprestriction}

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