TAMPA, Fla. — Eutelsat is preparing to deploy the first of two new jam-tolerant broadcast satellites over the Middle East following signal disruptions in Iran.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the Eutelsat Hotbird 13F satellite into geostationary transfer orbit at 1:22 p.m. EST on Oct 15 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.
After separating from the rocket some 35 minutes later, the Airbus-built satellite will use onboard electric propulsion in the coming months to reach the French operator’s 13 degrees East orbital position.
Hotbird 13F and its twin, Hotbird 13G, to be launched by SpaceX later this year, will replace three aging satellites in that orbital position to provide video services over the Middle East, Europe and North Africa: Hotbird 13B, 13C and 13E.
Together, these three satellites deliver 1,000 television channels to more than 160 million homes to support a broadcast business that – albeit gradually decreasing — accounted for 59% of the €287 million earned by Eutelsat in the three months ended September.
On October 7, Eutelsat said signals originated in Iran disrupt foreign broadcasts in the country of Hotbird 13C as authorities there try to crack down on mass protests. The company’s Eutelsat 7B satellite, positioned at 7 degrees East, is also affected by interference.
Eutelsat’s forthcoming Hotbird 13F and 13G will be based on Airbus’ new Eurostar Neo design, which promises improvements in payload capacity, energy efficiency and thermal control systems.
Notably, they have also improved “uplink signal protection and resilience” to resist attempts to disrupt their services, according to Eutelsat.
Eutelsat declined to comment on how Hotbird 13F and 13G would protect against signal interference for safety reasons, and Airbus referred questions to Eutelsat.
The French operator has previously helped push anti-jamming technology across its fleet to protect its revenue.
The Eutelsat 8 West B satellite, launched in 2015 with Middle East coverage, carried experimental frequency converters to protect against interference.
Eutelsat ordered this satellite from Thales Alenia Space in 2013 following signal disruptions in the region during the anti-government Arab Spring unrest earlier in the decade.
Hotbird 13F is the first satellite based on Airbus’ Eurostar Neo platform, developed with funding from space agencies in Europe and the UK.
Airbus has sold a total of eight satellites based on the platform, including a military communications spacecraft for the UK MoD.
Hotbird 13G comes from Beluga
A few hours after Hotbird 13F lifted off, its twin landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, having arrived in an Airbus BelugaST from France.
It is the first Beluga to visit the United States since the European Tranquility Module was delivered to the International Space Station for a space shuttle launch in 2009.
Large geostationary satellites usually travel internationally in large Ukrainian Antonov aircraft or slower boats amidst the disruption caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Airbus in January offered oversized cargo transportation for customers with its fleet of five BelugaST aircraft, which until recently were used to transport large aircraft parts between the manufacturer’s locations.
These internal needs are gradually being transferred to new, larger BelugaXL aircraft to make BelugaST available for commercial transport needs.