SpaceX’s loss has got to be someone else’s gain. Inmarsat, a British satellite communications company, announced Thursday it signed a contract with Arianespace to launch its S-band satellite, which the Elon Musk company was previously scheduled to launch.
The satellite is for the European Aviation Network and will provide high speed internet access to fliers in European skies. While the EAN satellite was scheduled for a 2017 launch (it will be launched from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, in mid-2017, on an Ariane 5 heavy lift launch vehicle), Inmarsat had been looking for companies other than SpaceX for the launch, following the flight delays after a Sept. 1 explosion destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and a Spacecom communications satellite at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral launch pad in Florida.
Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said over a month ago, in an interview on Nov. 3 with the Wall Street Journal: “We are actively looking at alternatives.”
The Arianespace launch will carry another payload for Hellas-Sat, and the two companies decided together to award the launch contract to the French rocket company instead of SpaceX, which announced Wednesday its plan to resume flight operations had been pushed to January from its earlier December timeline. And according to reports, even the January launch has not yet been cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration.
However, Inmarsat said in its statement the launch of Inmarsat-5 F4, the fourth satellite in its Global Xpress series, will go ahead with SpaceX as planned. That launch is planned for the first half of 2017 and “Inmarsat is looking forward to continuing to work with SpaceX going forward.”