SES is still increasing its potential on world space market. Now they are starting to expand business profile.
SES again surprised with its initiative – just after announcing about will to sign contract for launch with used first stage of Falcon-9, Company is going one step forward. In annual report announced on April 2016, SES stated that it is ready to invest in project of refueling satellite and in-orbit payload swapping spacecraft (similar idea was announced by DARPA as RSGS – read more here). It is another sign that European space industry has new strong player with innovative approach for space exploration – Luxembourg. After announcing by Luxembourg government new law aimed to encourage foreign and domestic companies to start ventures targeted for developing space mining ventures (read more here), it is second such spectacular and pioneering venture. It is even more impressive because it will be developed by only by private companies. SES stated that first talks were started with two companies which had in the past program of refueling satellites: Orbital ATK with their Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) (created with 50% participation of U.S. Space) and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. with Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS). MEV was kind of additional propulsion for satellites – it could attach itself to almost 90% of GEO satellites and transfer such satellite into new orbit with own thrusters and detach after the maneuver. Project was announced at 2012, just two years after MDA project of Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) was unveiled. SIS was basing on different concept than MEV. It was refueling satellite which could reach GEO satellite, remove part of shield from satellite, refuel it with special connector and separate – according to MDA it should be possible in less than 20 minutes. Both projects were not tested in space, but according to some sources MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. were considered by DARPA as future partner in public-private venture focused on service satellite.
SES is going to improve their cost cutting politics – their impressive fleet of satellite is not getting younger – some satellites could be reused if only fuel could be delivered to them or payload could be changed in orbit. Company announced that probably their newly launched satellites will be equipped in special port which will serve for refueling. First satellite which could be used for testing such solution will be SES-16 which will belong to LuxGovSat Company created as joint-venture by SES and Luxembourg government to meet demands of Luxembourg Defense Ministry. It is worth to mention that DARPA in their RSGS (Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites) also planned to implement possibility of changing payload and refueling but not only that. DARPA project will be able to be used with different satellite buses thanks to modular design and could be also use for minor servicing like deploying jammed solar arrays or stacked antennas. Still it is at the moment only a technology demonstrator. Now it seems that in this case competition is visible even on drawing boards.