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Top Launches to Watch in 2023

By Rachel Jewett | December 29, 2022

      A rendering of the ViaSat-3 constellation. Photo: Viasat

      A number of anticipated satellites launched to orbit in 2022, but supply chain and labor headwinds kept other key programs grounded. Here is a round-up of the top launches of satellites and rockets the Via Satellite team will be watching and covering in 2023. 

      Spoiler alert, the list is a bit similar to last year’s. From last year’s list, we watched the launches of the first O3b mPOWER satellites for SES, Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS and 10B satellites, and the AST SpaceMobile BlueWalker 3 satellite, but other launches were pushed to 2023. 

      Viasat — ViaSat-3 

      ViaSat-3, the first in a trio of high capacity Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites for Viasat did not see launch in 2022, but is on the list for 2023. In Viasat’s most recent financial results, the operator said launch is anticipated “earlier” in the first quarter of calendar year 2023, and the satellite completed its final integrated satellite test in November

      The mission will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with another anticipated satellite as a secondary payload. The Astranis Aurora 4A, aka Arcturus, satellite will support customer Pacific Dataport for broadband connectivity in Alaska. It is the first Astranis MicroGEO satellites. 

      Viasat announced the ViaSat-3 constellation in 2015 as a massive ramp-up of on orbit capacity. Each satellite is anticipated to offer 1 Terabit per second of capacity, delivering speeds to users at 100+ Mbps. The first satellite will cover the Americas and the surrounding oceans regions, the second will cover Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and the third will cover the Asia-Pacific region. Viasat built the payload, and Boeing Satellite Systems integrated the bus module, based on Boeing’s 702 platform. 

      Hughes Network Systems — Jupiter 3

      The Hughes Network Systems Jupiter 3 satellite was also on the 2022 list, but the satellite program has had even more delays. Maxar Technologies is building the satellite and recently announced it will not deliver the satellite to parent company EchoStar until the end of April 2023 because of subcontractor delays and challenging developmental work. 

      With the delays, Maxar agreed to waive more than $50 million in future fees and to purchase at least $30 million of goods and services from EchoStar in 2023. Meanwhile, Hughes is capacity constrained over the United States, and said capacity limitations are contributing to a decline in subscribers, with added competition from Starlink. 

      Jupiter 3 will bring more than 500 Gbps of capacity to Hughes’ network — two to three times the capacity of Jupiter 2. The satellite will increase capacity and support business expansion in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and other countries in South America for a wide range of sectors such as consumer, enterprise, aeronautical, cellular backhaul, and community Wi-Fi, with service plans. Hughes ordered the satellite in August 2017, and originally targeted launch in early 2021. 

      Maxar — WorldView Legion 

      Speaking of Maxar, the Earth observation operator is also waiting to launch its first two WorldView Legion satellites. After multiple schedule slips, Maxar said in its most recent financial results it expects the satellites to launch in January 2023

      The highly anticipated WorldView Legion constellation will provide a boost to Maxar’s Earth observation capacity, but the first launches for the program have had many delays due to issues with hardware, software validation, and work delays. The satellites will deliver 29-centimeter resolution and be able to show an object’s true location on the ground within 5 meters — accuracy that can enable 3D mapping and self-driving vehicles.

      The constellation includes six satellites, but now Maxar plans to accelerate satellites seven and eight with a deal to be acquired by private equity firm Advent International

      Amazon Project Kuiper Prototypes 

      In 2022, Amazon began to share more details about the planned Project Kuiper Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation, signing a huge multi-launch deal and acquiring a new satellite manufacturing facility

      The coming year is set to see the two prototype satellites launch on a special mission — ULA’s first Vulcan Centaur launch. Amazon announced in October that it will launch two prototype satellites — Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2 — for Project Kuiper on the first Vulcan mission, and ULA confirmed the launch slipped to the first quarter of 2023. Primary customer Astrobotic will fly its Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon for NASA

      While these are just two prototype satellites, Amazon has an FCC deadline to have half of its constellation launched by July 2026.

      Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab With Location Firsts

      There are two special missions targeted for early in 2023 that slipped out of 2022 timelines. Virgin Orbit will be conducting the first-ever orbital launch from the United Kingdom, at the new Spaceport Cornwall. The launcher just received the U.K.’s first-ever orbital launch license and plans to set a launch window soon. This is part of the launcher’s plans to take its air-launch system global, with agreements in place to replicate the process around the world. 

      Separately, Rocket Lab was expecting to launch its first mission from U.S. soil in 2022, but delays with certification and then an East Coast storm held it back. Rocket Lab had to push the Electron launch for HawkEye 360 from Wallops Island, Virginia to early 2023, causing millions in revenue to slip from 2022 to 2023

      Rocket Debuts? 

      Russia’s war in Ukraine had rippling effects across the global launch industry, tightening a situation in which launch customers already have a limited number of options. A number of new rockets are waiting in the wings with potential first launches in 2023 to add capacity to the global launch market. 

      As previously mentioned, ULA expects the first launch of its Vulcan Centaur rocket in the first quarter of 2023. Vulcan Centaur will replace the Delta IV Heavy rocket. 

      In the heavy-lift category, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace are expecting the Ariane 6’s maiden flight in late 2023. Arianespace emphasized the recent Vega C failure does not impact the Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 programs. Arianespace has only two more Ariane 5 launches, and the first Ariane 6 flight is set for the end of 2023. 

      Also, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and JAXA recently announced the first flight of its H3 rocket is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2023. 

      Relativity Space had scheduled its Terran 1 rocket to debut in 2022 which did not happen, but it did conduct a successful wet dress rehearsal. First launch is expected for 2023. 

      And finally … will SpaceX do an orbital flight test for the Starship rocket in 2023? SpaceX has not made any announcements, but we’ll be paying attention.