AMSTERDAM — Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket on May 27 successfully delivered two direct-broadcast television satellites into transfer orbit for DirecTV Group of the United States — one for U.S customers, the other for Mexico — in the vehicle’s 65th consecutive success and the second of six missions planned for 2015. El Segundo, California-based DirecTV said both satellites were healthy in orbit and sending signals, as did the satellites’ two manufacturers in separate statements. Operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America, the Ariane 5 first separated the 6,200-kilogram DirecTV-15 satellite, built by Airbus Defence and Space of Europe, followed by the 2,962-kilogram SkyM-1 spacecraft, which was in the vehicle’s lower berth.
DirecTV-15 is the second satellite ordered by the U.S. satellite television giant that will employ so-called reverse-band frequencies for ultra-high-definition (UHD) television broadcasts. Long used for Earth-to-satellite uplinks, frequency regulators have allowed its use for downlinks to open up new spectrum as broadcasters accommodate bandwidth-hungry UHD. The DirecTV-14 satellite, built by SSL of Palo Alto, California, debuted reverse band for DirecTV and was launched in December 2014. Ka-band payloads are now common to DirecTV’s North American fleet. The company has more Ka-band capacity in orbit than anyone else, and more homes receiving Ka-band signals than the combined customer base of the two U.S. consumer satellite broadband providers, Hughes Network Systems and ViaSat Inc. In addition to reverse-band capacity in the 17-gigahertz spectrum, DirecTV-15 carries 28 Ka- and 25 Ku-band transponders. DirecTV said it is capable of operating at any of the company’s five orbital slots over North America — at 99.2 degrees west and 102.8 degrees west in Ka-band, and at 101 degrees, 110 degrees and 119 degrees west in Ku-band. DirecTV-15 will be stationed at 102.8 degrees west for now and is designed to deliver 18 kilowatts of power to its payload at the end of its contracted 15-year life. SkyM-1, built by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, will be used by DirecTV-owned Sky Mexico from 78.8 degrees west for customers in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. SKYM-1 has two reverse-band transponders in addition to its core payload of 24 Ku-band transponders. It is built to provide six kilowatts of power at the end of its 15-year life. Orbital ATK said it has enough fuel for 20 years of operations. The two satellites together weighed nearly 9,200 kilograms. The Ariane 5’s Sylda platform that separates the two satellites and other satellite-integration hardware added about 760 kilograms to the total mass that was carried into orbit. The commercial space-launch sector, including satellite insurance underwriters, is paying especially close attention to the Ariane 5 launch rate this year because both Evry, France-based Arianespace, which operates the Ariane 5, has a full manifest until 2017. Its principal competitor, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is also fully booked and has yet to demonstrate its ability to launch its Falcon 9 rocket, which usually carries a single satellite payload, with high frequency. The May 16 failure of a Russian Proton rocket, the fourth in four years, has left Arianespace and SpaceX as the only two vehicles regularly servicing the commercial market. Arianespace had said early in the year it may be able to conduct seven Ariane 5 launches in 2015, depending on satellite customers’ on-time arrival, even as it juggles demand for the company’s medium-lift Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket and the light-class Vega. But more recently the company has said six Ariane 5 campaigns is more likely.