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SES-18 C-band satellite goes operational

New craft comes onstream in what is said to represent one of the final milestones as operator taps into expected rich vein of services based at key wireless spectrum band

Enabling it to continue delivering broadcast and radio services to millions of US homes, as well as provide other critical network communications services to the country, satellite operator SES has revealed its SES-18 satellite is now delivering services at 103 degrees west, replacing the payload of the previous craft using the lucrative C-band.

In what it calls a new milestone, SES has completed the successful in-orbit deployment of five of the six new satellites as part of a broader programme by US comms regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clear a portion of C-band spectrum and enable wireless operators to deploy 5G services across the contiguous US (Conus).

Satellite operators, including SES, have been tasked by the FCC to clear the lower 300MHz of C-band spectrum throughout Conus by December 2023.

First announced in 2019, the plan first proposed to make available for 5G use 100MHz of spectrum, in 46 top metropolitan areas within 18 months of an FCC order, and 280MHz throughout the continental US within 36 months of a CBA-led auction. The updated FCC filing also includes a 20MHz guard band to protect existing satellite services from 5G interference.

To satisfy the FCC’s deadline, SES ordered six satellites to provide the necessary capacity for existing customers. Five satellites – SES-22, SES-20, SES-21, SES-18 and SES-19 – were successfully launched between June 2022 and March 2023 to enable the broadcast delivery of digital television to nearly 120 million TV homes, as well as provide critical data services.

SES-18 is regarded by the satellite operator as critical to that effort, enabling it to transition existing services to the upper C-band frequencies while maintaining uninterrupted services for customers.

The SES-19 craft, which was launched in tandem with SES-18, has arrived at its orbital slot at 135 degrees west, where it is colocated with SES-22. The remaining sixth satellite, SES-23, is on the ground as a spare in case of need.

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SES-18 and SES-19 were successfully launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in March 2023. SES-18 and SES-19 were designed, manufactured and assembled by Northrop Grumman.

“We are excited to see our final two new C-band satellites in their orbital positions, and for SES-18 to provide continuity of service for our customers in the US,” said soon-to-step-down SES CEO Steve Collar. “Thanks to our partners who have been an integral part of our C-band transition programme, we look forward to completing the programme ahead of the FCC’s accelerated relocation deadline.”

As it was making its C-band services move, SES announced it has signed an agreement with NorthStar Earth and Space Inc (NorthStar), the first commercial service provider to monitor space from space, to collaborate on the implementation of next-generation commercial Space Situational Awareness services.

The aim is to significantly increase the precision of resident space object tracking to enhance the safety and sustainability of operations in space, both companies announced today.

NorthStar and SES inked a deal in 2022 to collaborate and contribute to the realisation of what they call a more sustainable space environment.

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