SpaceX Launches Jupiter 3 Satellite for EchoStar

SpaceX launched the Jupiter 3 satellite on a Falcon Heavy after two scrubbed attempts. Jupiter 3 is part of EchoStar’s commercial communication satellite constellation. It was produced by Hughes Communication and built by Maxar Technologies. It deployed about 3.5 hours after launch.

The satellite is one of the largest communications satellites ever launched with a weight of more than 9 tons. Many modern communications satellites are much smaller. A typical Starlink Version 2 satellite weighs less than a ton, for instance. The Version 1 Starlink satellites weigh only 573 pounds.

Hughes Communication also refers to it as EchoStar XXIV in a fact sheet about the satellite. It calls Jupiter 3 an Ultra High Density Satellite (UHDS) that can relay communications for applications like in-flight Wi-Fi services, maritime communications, enterprise networks, and Mobile Network Operators.

It also says this line of satellites can support satellite Internet services similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, or OneWeb. Starlink already has permission from the FCC to provide Internet services for large vehicles and maritime operations and has made deals with airlines to provide in-flight Wi-Fi. Unlike some competitors like ViaSat, EchoStar and Hughes Communication seem more interested in building a viable alternative to Starlink than getting into fights with SpaceX and Elon Musk with regulators and judges acting as referees.

For all that Musk sometimes makes sharp comments about their eagerness to get in Starlink’s way, he doesn’t mind taking their money for launch services, though. SpaceX has launched OneWeb and ViaSat satellites after its respective disputes with each company.

This communication relay will help reduce latency for these networks by increasing the reliability of communications. It can boost signals so that the receiving device essentially won’t have to ask the sending device to “repeat itself” due to a garbled signal as often. Jupiter 3 will help cover North and South America.

Jupiter 3 will support Ka-Band communications, along with Q- and V-band for gateways. It has a capacity of up to 500 Gbps, though it will normally handle speeds of up to 100 Gbps. Its “stowed size” — the compact form that was most likely to fit into the Falcon Heavy’s fairing — was about the size of a school bus. It has 14 solar panels that Hughes Communications says will span 10 stories once it unfolds from its stowed form.

Hughes Communication says the satellite went through the typical testing to see whether it can survive the intense vibrations of launch and the intense temperature extremes of space. Hardware in space can experience intense temperature swings as it orbits from the “day side” to the “night side” of Earth, which can be hard on electronics and planned operations.

SpaceX says this is the 250th successful launch for the company. It launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The larger size of the Jupiter 3 satellite warranted the use of Falcon Heavy for its ability to launch heavier payloads than the normal “Transporter” missions that can launch dozens of small satellites on a Falcon 9.