Jupiter-3: World's heaviest communication satellite is now in orbit

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully placed the commercial communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit, adding 500 gigabits per second capacity to the network's services.
Ameya Paleja
File image of a Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center
File image of a Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center


SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully placed in geosynchronous orbit the world's heaviest commercial communications satellite, Jupiter-3, Space News reported. Built by Maxar Technologies, Jupiter-3 weighs nine metric tons (9,200 kg) and became the payload for Falcon Heavy's seventh flight since its debut in 2018.

The rocket

Falcon Heavy is SpaceX's partially reusable rocket capable of super-heavy lifts. According to its webpage, the Falcon Heavy consists of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores. Put together, the 27 Merlin engines on this launch vehicle can generate five million pounds of thrust, which is the equivalent of 18 Boeing 747 aircraft. The massive amount of thrust allows 141,000 pounds (64 metric tons) of payload to be taken to low earth orbit (LEO).

This mission was originally slated for July 26th and appeared to be on track until a last-minute abort call. SpaceX did not reveal the reasons for the abort but scheduled the launch after two days.

On July 28th, the heavy lift rocket took off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 11:04 pm Eastern. The side boosters of the rocket landed at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station seven minutes later and can now be reused for other missions. Previously, the side booster served in two consecutive launches for the US Space Force in November last year and earlier in January this year.

Three hours later, the world's heaviest communications satellite was placed in orbit, with SpaceX sharing this 11-second clip.

The payload

The nine-metric-ton Jupiter-3 was built for US satellite communication company EchoStar, which provides internet services through its subsidiary Hughes Network Systems. The order for the satellite was placed in 2017 with Maxar Technologies, which was then known by its former name Space Systems Loral.

The initial launch was planned for 2021 but was significantly delayed due to the pandemic. In the making of Jupiter-3, Maxar broke its own record for the largest communications satellite it has ever made, moving the 15,600-pound (7,076 kg) Telstar-19 off the top spot. Earlier in May, Falcon Heavy was also used to launch ViaSat-3 Americas, a 14,000-pound (6,400 kg) communications satellite.

Jupiter-3 was about the size of a school bus when it was packed inside the Falcon Heavy. Up in space, the solar panels and antenna have now been fully deployed and now have the wingspan of a Boeing 737.

Hughes Networks Systems has confirmed that the satellite has started sending and receiving signals post-deployment and it will now help in strengthening the capacity of the Jupiter fleet. After reaching its 95 degrees west orbital slot, Jupiter-3 will add 500 gigabits per second capacity to the network's services.

Over the past year, the company has seen a 15 percent increase in bandwidth usage amongst its customers and has been losing customers due to capacity constraints. Amongst its competitors is also Starlink, SpaceX's own satellite-based internet service.