SpaceX is launching the final two satellites in the SES C-band clearing plan

TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX launched the last two satellites on March 17 that SES needs to claim revenues from C-band spectrum clearing worth nearly $4 billion in total.

The operator said it successfully made contact with SES-18 and SES-19 after they were put into geosynchronous transfer orbit by a Falcon 9, which lifted off at 19:38 Eastern from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

The rocket’s first-stage booster also successfully landed on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean for recycling after its sixth flight.

Earlier in the day, a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, launched 52 satellites into low Earth orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation.

Ahead of schedule

SES said SES-18 and SES-19, built by Northrop Grumman, are to begin services in June after using onboard hydrazine-powered propulsion to reach their geostationary orbital slots.

SES-18 is set to replace the operator’s aging SES-3 satellite at 103 degrees West.

SES-19 is headed 135 degrees west to join the SES-22 satellite that SpaceX launched last year.

SES-22 was the first to launch six satellites SES ordered to help migrate broadcast customers to a narrower C-band so more frequencies can be used for terrestrial 5G services in the United States.

United Launch Alliance launched two other satellites for the operator’s C-band clearing strategy in October on an Atlas 5 rocket: SES-20 and SES-21.

The sixth C-band satellite SES ordered under this plan is being used as a ground reserve.

All costs associated with the C-band clearing are eligible for reimbursement using revenue raised by the Federal Communications Commission in 2021 from auctioning off the frequencies to wireless carriers.

SES also stands to get $3.97 billion in total incentive payments from the FCC if it can relocate customers and filter antennas on the ground in time to clear the spectrum by Dec. 5.

The operator said its C-band clearing activities are currently running ahead of schedule.

Intelsat also has a significant share of C-band in the US and has ordered seven satellites for its clearing plan, none of which act as ground spares.

SpaceX is slated to launch Intelsat-37, the last satellite left to launch in this spectrum-clearing strategy, on a dedicated Falcon 9 in June.

Intelsat is in line to get $4.9 billion in total proceeds if it can meet the FCC’s December deadline, though SES is challenging its share of that windfall.

SES and Intelsat have already unlocked more than $2 billion in combined revenue by reaching the FCC’s initial incentive payment milestone in 2021.

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