SKY Perfect JSAT signed a contract with SpaceX to become one of the first organizations to launch hardware on the heavy-duty Starship. It will launch the broadcast and broadband satellite Superbird-9 as early as 2024.
Superbird-9 will be a High Throughput Satellite (HTS) capable of handling broadband transmissions over the Ku and Ka bands for Japan and Eastern Asia. Once launched, it will maneuver into a geosynchronous orbit.
SKY Perfect JSAT primarily delivers multi-channel subscription TV broadcasting services and communications for the Japanese market through its 16 existing satellites. Its Sky PerfecTV! has three million subscribers. Its communications satellites also provide services for government, military, and maritime applications.
SKY Perfect JSAT and SpaceX gave few details on how big Superbird-9 will be or why the satellite operator chose Starship. SKY Perfect JSAT published this Japanese-language overview of Superbird-9.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has indicated that Starship will be capable of launching more satellites than the Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy can – and, presumably, bigger satellites as well.
He previously hinted that it could be used to speed up the launch of SpaceX’s Internet-providing Starlink satellites. SpaceX already conducts dedicated rideshare missions for small satellites that would otherwise have to wait for a chance to “piggyback” on launch of larger payloads.
However, it abruptly ended a relationship with Spaceflight, Inc., which acts as a broker for launches of small satellites. Although neither company gave an official reason, a series of issues that included problems with the Sherpa tug may have been a factor. SpaceX also works with similar companies like D-Orbit and ExoLaunch.
2024 is very much a tentative date for the Superbird-9 satellite launch due to delays in planned Starship-related testing. A planned orbital test has been repeatedly delayed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) due to bureaucratic red tape that includes plowing through a large number of public comments and required environmental studies.
Elon Musk has frequently expressed frustration with regulators and floated the possibility of moving Starship testing from Boca Chica, Texas, to Cape Canaveral in Florida. Activists also seem to give him occasional headaches, with the latest being a lawsuit over allegedly excessive beach closures for SpaceX-related activities. Boca Chica residents also complained of allegedly heavy-handed tactics that could indicate that SpaceX intends to turn it into a company town, something that SpaceX denies.
Musk has proposed improvements like having The Boring Company create a traffic tunnel directly to SpaceX’s test launch facility to help reduce congestion from SpaceX employees commuting to the site. He also made donations for community improvement projects and education to attract qualified engineers to the area. Musk did joke about making the Shiba Inu, a dog breed made famous by the Doge meme, Boca Chica’s mascot.
Once Starship is operational, however, SpaceX plans to use it for a wide variety of applications that range from rapid point-to-point transportation on Earth to journeys to Mars. It already has a contract with the Air Force to study possible use of Starship for point-to-point transportation of urgently needed cargos.