Airbus Defence and Space will build the Eutelsat 36D geostationary communications satellite for French operator Eutelsat. It is scheduled to be launched in 2024.
36° East, a strategic position
While the year 2020 ended with a number of orders for geostationary telecommunications satellites not seen since 2015 (between 20 and 23 contracts open to competition, depending on the counting method), restoring a degree of confidence to the various players in the sector, the first quarter of 2021 has been surprisingly quiet, with no announcements until Eutelsat's announcement on 22 March: the French operator has selected Airbus Defence and Space to build the Eutelsat 36D satellite, destined for the 36° East position.
This strategic orbital position for Eutelsat will provide coverage of Russia and its surrounding areas, as well as sub-Saharan Africa, for the broadcasting of Direct-to-Home (DTH) television programmes.
The Eutelsat 36B and 36C (Ekspress AMU 1) satellites, launched in November 2009 and December 2015 respectively, are already operating there.
Their traffic generates Eutelsat's third highest revenue (second highest for government services), with a high fill rate, as the operator's two flagship orbital positions are 13° East (for Europe, the Middle East and Africa with the Hotbird 13B, 13C and 13E satellites) and 7/8° West (Middle East and North Africa, with Eutelsat 7 West A and 8 West B).
A two-year protection loop
Eutelsat 36D, due to be launched in the first half of 2024, will replace Eutelsat 36B (built by Thales Alenia Space and launched on the Proton-M / Briz-M from Baikonur, Kazakhstan), whose operational life is expected to end in 2026.
Such a recovery (described by Eutelsat as a "protection loop") over a two-year period is quite rare, demonstrating the importance the operator attaches to continuity of service for its main customers from the 36° East position.
Airbus, champion of all-electricity
Eutelsat 36D, whose technical specifications are not yet known, will be built on the Eurostar Neo all-electric platform, the eighth sold since 2018 by Airbus Defence and Space, the current world champion of all-electricity for geostationary telecommunications satellites.
The satellite will be equipped with 70 Ku-band transponders, which will not only ensure the continuity of Eutelsat 36B's missions, but also enhance its performance in its coverage areas.
Eutelsat says this order does not change its capital expenditure strategy; by next year, the operator will reinforce its fleet with five new elements - three supplied by Airbus Defence and Space and two by Thales Alenia Space: Eutelsat Quantum (on Airbus' GMP-TL experimental platform), Konnect VHTS (on TAS' Spacebus Neo platform), Hotbird 13F and 13G (on Eurostar Neo), and finally Eutelsat 10B (on Spacebus Neo).
It is rumoured that new orders for geostationary satellites will soon be announced by other telecommunications operators...
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