Earlier this month, on May 15, 2015, MEXSAT-1 the second satellite in a three-satellite system configuration was lost after the Russian Proton M rocket carrying it exploded eight minutes after launch. The Russian government is still investigating the loss of the rocket and the satellite. According to a statement issued by the Russian space authorities, it appears the failure was the result of the third-stage failing to ignite. MEXSAT-1 was one of three Mexican satellites intended to enhance Mexico’s communications infrastructure.
MEXSAT-1 was supposed to orbit Earth at 22,000 miles above the surface, had it been able to achieve the intended orbit. According to the Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes, the Mexican government agency responsible for the satellites, the loss of the satellite is covered by “comprehensive insurance” that includes the design, development and the launch of the satellite. It is estimated that the total loss for Centenario (MEXSAT-1) was about $400,000, all of it to be covered by the insurance policy.
I realize that many of you are surprised that Mexico operates satellites. I thought this would be a good opportunity to share with you the details of the MEXSAT program, as well as provide you some background about other satellites Mexico has operated.
MEXSAT 1, 2 & 3
The MEXSAT satellite system is a turnkey communications platform comprised of three geosynchronous orbiting satellites and two ground stations. The $1 billion contract for the system was awarded in December 2010 by the Mexican government in order to upgrade the communications systems for the country. The satellite system is designed to provide secure communications to Mexico’s national security forces as well as enhancing the civil communications infrastructure, especially providing access to mobile telephones in the rural areas of the country.
Although less discussed publicly, the satellite program enhances the infrastructure of the new security scheme that Mexico embarked upon as a result of the drug wars in 2008. Military secure communications is a major aspect of the services the system is intended to provide.
MEXSAT 1 & 2 are Boeing 702HP geomobile satellites. MEXSAT 3 is a GEOStar-2 C and Ku-band satellite. The satellites are named Bicentenario, Centenario and Morelos-3. Bicentenario was launched on December 19, 2012 on board an Ariane 5 rocket. Centenario was lost during launch earlier this month and Morelos-3 is expected to be launched in October. The two supporting base stations, required for the system, are located in Hermosillo and Iztapalapa. They have been operating since November of 2012.
Centenario, which was completed by Boeing in 2013 and Morelos-3, completed in 2014, were scheduled to be launched on Russian Proton rockets. Centenario, the lost satellite, was originally scheduled to be launched in 2014, however it was delayed due to weather and launch slots being unavailable. Launch slots have been delayed since the US Space Shuttle fleet was retired and other commercial rockets have had their services delayed or cancelled.
Although Centenario was lost, indications are that the Mexican government is already in talks with Boeing to replace the satellite in the near future.
The third satellite, MEXSAT-3 is scheduled to be launched on October 22, 2015 out of Cape Canaveral. According to the Mexican government’s announcement, after the launch failure, MEXSAT-3 will provide the majority of the services lost due to the loss of MEXSAT-1.
The MEXSAT system was designed to be a redundant system and thus the loss of Centenario is not expected to affect the communications platforms. Bicentenario has been providing the necessary services since its launch in 2012. Morelos-3 should augment the platform after it enters orbit, later this year.
Mexico’s previous satellites include the 1985 Boeing 376 satellites Morelos-1 and Morelos-2. Solidaridad-1 and Solidaridad-2 were launched in 1993 and 1994. Both are Boeing 601HP satellites. In 1998, SATMEX-5, a Boeing 601HP satellite, was launched. All of the satellites, except for SATMEX-5, have met their contracted service lives. SATMEX-5, which exceeded its service life in 2013 and Solidaridad-2 are two satellites of the three satellites providing satellite services for Mexico. Bicentenario, is the third satellite.
For those of you that might be interested in the specifications for Bicentenario and Centenario here they are:
L-band mobile satellite services with coverage
C- and Ku-band satellite for fixed satellite services
Mass at Launch: 5400 kg
Mass in Orbit (beginning of life): 3200 kg
Liquid apogee thruster
100 lbf High Performance Liquid Apogee Thruster
Four 5-lbf Axial Thrusters
Four 2.2-lbf East/West thrusters
22-meter L-band reflector
2-meter Ku-band antenna
T&C wide coverage antennas
Flexible Digital Channelizer
L-band Solid State Power Amplifier (SSPA)
100W Ku-band traveling wave tube amplifiers (TWTA)s
Two wings each with five panels of ultra triple junction gallium arsenide solar cells
14 kW & 13 kW
Two Lithium Ion battery packs Battery Electronics Unit (BEU) Integrated Power Controller (IPC)