EUTELSAT 172B was launched by Ariane 5 from Kourou, in French Guiana, on June 1. The Airbus spacecraft control center in Toulouse took control for early operations, initialization, deployment of the solar array and electric propulsion arms, and completed initial testing prior to starting the Electric Orbit Raising phase on June 8. During this four-month phase, electric thrusters smoothly and efficiently propelled the satellite to the targeted orbit, consuming almost six times less propellant mass than for a satellite with chemical propulsion.
Following completion of the payload on orbit tests and drift to its operational location led by the Eutelsat team, EUTELSAT 172B is scheduled to enter commercial service in November to provide enhanced telecommunications, in-flight broadband and broadcast services for the Asia-Pacific region. Its life span is expected to exceed 15 years thanks to electric propulsion for in-orbit raising and station-keeping.
EUTELSAT 172B combines 13 kW of payload power with a launch mass of only 3,550 kg, thanks to the latest EOR version of Airbus’ highly reliable Eurostar E3000 platform. The EOR success and record was made possible by two Airbus innovations:
- A pair of deployable robotic arms which orientate the satellite’s electric propulsion thrusters, and control thrust direction and attitude during different phases of the mission
- The WALIS (Wide Angle Localization Integrated System) network of ground stations around the world, developed by Airbus, which has enabled engineers to control orbit raising operations until the satellite reached geostationary orbit
The development of Airbus’ Eurostar all-electric satellites has been supported by ESA and space agencies of European countries, in particular in France by the CNES in the framework of the PIA program (Plan d’Investissements d’Avenir) and in the UK by the UK Space Agency.
Nicolas Chamussy, the Head of Space Systems at Airbus, stated that the company is the first to demonstrate full electric propulsion for satellites of this size and capacity, enabling their launch in the most cost-efficient manner. Furthermore, with Airbus' system design, operation strategy and the plasma thruster technology the firm implements, Airbus has completed the fastest electric orbit raising ever from transfer to geostationary orbit, which will allow Eutelsat to put their electric satellite in service in a record time.
Yohann Leroy, Eutelsat’s Chief Technical Officer, added that EUTELSAT 172B confirms the relevance of Eutelsat’s early adoption of electric propulsion technology to optimize capex. In combining electric propulsion, High Throughput capacity, robotic arms and 3D printing techniques, this new satellite also reflects Europe’s capability to push the envelope of innovation in order to increase the competitiveness of our business — EUTELSAT 172B will be brought into service next month for clients in the Asia-Pacific region.