Florida's orbital launch year began the same way it ended 2023: with the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Aboard the primary launch vehicle was a communications satellite from Sweden-based Ovzon. The rocket was launched at the opening of a ten-minute launch window that began at 6:04 PM EDT (2304 UTC). This is the second Falcon 9 flight in less than 24 hours, following the launch of 21 Starlink satellites from California late Tuesday.
The mission sent the Ovzon-3 satellite into geostationary orbit, the first privately funded Swedish satellite to be launched.
Spaceflight Now will have live coverage with commentary from Cape Town about an hour before liftoff.
“Sweden has a strong history in satellite, but this is a first for Sweden and I think this is something we are very proud of,” said Christopher Alm, chief marketing officer at Ovzon. “I think Sweden has a very strong base to continue our development.”
After its launch on Wednesday, the satellite will spend the next three months reaching its orbital position of 59.7 east. Once there, Ovzon will begin the full testing campaign. The plan is that by mid-2024, the satellite will be fully operational.
“The good thing is we're not done yet. We'll continue to add capabilities,” Alm said. “Obviously some of these capabilities will be customer-oriented, and some we'll do because it's in our roadmap.”
At its core, the Ovzon-3 satellite is designed for critical missions with so-called near-peer capabilities. Alm said the idea is for the satellite to be operable without relying on the ground portion of the structure, which helps it resist jamming or other intrusive operations.
The satellite features five steerable spot beams that allow it to adjust where it provides the greatest capacity to the user and will work with the Ovzon range of satellite terminals.
“Defense is our main target market. Defense is where we have had the most success, but we are starting to expand. We have national security and public safety,” Alm said. “So we operate like fire and rescue services in Italy and other parts of Europe where They need mobile stations and powerful stations. They need a service that can be activated quickly.”
“This is another part of our advantage, which is that we have a full service chain. So we can activate and deploy the network within 24 hours basically,” Alm added.
Meet the evolving challenge
Ovzon was founded in 2006 to provide on-orbit power leasing through the use of its ground stations. One of the company's main clients has historically been the US Department of Defense.
Over the years, Ovzon leaders decided that having their own satellite was important to expand their capabilities and provide a new service to government customers within the European market, Alm said.
“We've always been a Swedish company with an American customer base, and now we're a Swedish company with an American and European customer base and I think that's really exciting,” Alm said.
Alm pointed to Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine as a developmental moment in terms of the global community's greater appreciation for the presence of vital resident communications. He said the market is now more ready for this type of service than it was just two years ago.
“One thing that happened when the Russians went into Ukraine was that they jammed satellite communications. How did they do that? ‘Well, they destroyed the ground part,’” Alm said. “Our satellite can work without the ground part. So, when we say that to our clients, they say “oh.”
“So, they have studied what is going on there, and we can provide the necessary capabilities to address that,” Alm added. This means that our narrative is very relevant to a lot of European customers right now.
Worth waiting for
Ovzon's debut represents Sweden's first privately funded satellite, but it has also faced some headwinds. A combination of production delays and the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the satellite significantly behind schedule and the pre-launch cost was estimated at approximately 2 billion Swedish krona (equivalent to approximately $195 million). It was scheduled to be launched on an Ariane 5 but was not ready to fly before the European rocket was retired.
Alm said that despite the difficulties, they had strong support from their financial backers as they got off the ground.
“Of course, expectations are high and now we are [ready to launch] “It will be higher than that, but I think we see that as a challenge and we are willing to accept it,” Alm said. “Obviously it's up to us to execute now and I think that's part of the excitement ahead because now we've got a tool that will allow us to continue to grow the way we've been.
The beginning of a great year
The launch of the Ovzon-3 satellite continues what SpaceX hopes will be a historically busy year for the company. The mission will be SpaceX's second orbital launch of 2024 and the first this year with a paying customer.
The first stage booster supporting this mission, tail number B1076, will make its 10th flight to date and will return to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station about eight minutes after liftoff.
This mission kicks off a busy couple of months for SpaceX that will be highlighted by the launch of two crewed missions to the International Space Station, the launch of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station and a mission bound for the Moon using Intuitive Machines' Nova. -J Lander.
In a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, SpaceX Vice President of Launch Kiko Dontchev reiterated the company's goal of launching 144 times before the year is out.
“The launch system (pads, recovery, and flight hardware) must be capable of 13 [per] “For a month so we can catch up when planned maintenance, disasters and weather inevitably slow us down,” he wrote.
We are aiming for 144 launches in 2024 (12 launches per month). The launch system (pads, recovery, and flight hardware) must be able to operate for 13 months so that we can catch up when planned maintenance, disasters, and weather inevitably slow us down.
– Kiko Dontchev (@TurkeyBeaver) January 3, 2024
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