Space power

Amos-17 is expected to operate for up to 20 years, with a focus on providing communications services in sub-Saharan Africa. Spacecom said it has already received orders totaling almost $60m.

August 8, 2019 17:21
3 minute read.
Space power

The Amos-17 satellite. (photo credit: SPACECOM)

Israel is set to have the most advanced communications satellite over the world’s second-largest continent, Africa.

SpaceX launched Amos-17 into orbit from Cape Canaveral at 2:33 a.m. Israel time on Wednesday, according to Spacecom, the satellite’s Ramat Gan-based operator. Spacecom, SpaceX, its South African-born founder, Elon Musk, and many media outlets around the world broadcast the video of the launch.

Spacecom said Amos-17, a state-of-the-art, multiband satellite, will be able to provide communications services to clients across Africa. “Once operational, Amos-17 will be the most advanced high-throughput satellite to provide satellite communication services to Africa,” said Spacecom president and CEO David Pollack.

The $250 million satellite weighs 6.5 tons and will extend to about 35 m. in length, once its solar panels are deployed. It is scheduled to travel in space for 11 days at a speed of 11,000 kph to a geostationary orbit 36,000 km. above earth. According to Spacecom, it will be located at 17 degrees east longitude, enabling satellite TV and Internet broadcasts throughout the continent.

Amos-17 is expected to operate for up to 20 years, with a focus on providing communications services in sub-Saharan Africa. Spacecom said it has already received orders totaling almost $60m.

Spacecom, which was established in 1993, supplies services to satellite TV operators, Internet and telephone providers, governments and private data companies around the world.

According to Eran Shapiro, Spacecom’s director of business and technology ventures, Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world, and contains vast areas not connected to any communications infrastructure and therefore lacking Internet access. Amos-17 promises to revolutionize communications on the continent. To get connected via the Amos-17 satellite, locals merely have to set up a simple solar-powered terminal, Shapiro said.

Amos-17 was built by the American aerospace company Boeing, according to Spacecom’s specifications, almost three years after the Amos-6 satellite exploded on the launchpad of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral.

The explosion was a big blow to Spacecom, which lost a $285m. sale to China’s Xinwei Group and a lucrative deal with Facebook to provide Internet coverage for Africa.

“We had a prelaunch contract with Facebook to provide Internet for everyone in Africa. It was a dream deal,” said Pollack. “It all exploded, and I’m very sorry about that. It was a significant setback for us, but I hope that we can now do it with Amos-17.”

Due to the disaster, SpaceX this time provided the Amos-17 launch to Spacecom for free, although a satellite launch from Falcon 9 usually costs more than $60m.

The launch was originally scheduled for this past weekend, but it was delayed due to a suspected fault valve discovered during tests on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which carried the craft into space. Ultimately, though, Spacecom said the launch was highly successful, exceeding all expectations.

President Reuven Rivlin was the first to praise it, calling it a “morning full of pride.”

“Thanks and a salute to our darling Amos and SpaceX for the blessed and vital work on behalf of the State of Israel,” Rivlin wrote on social media.

The Science and Technology Ministry announced in September 2018 that it would subsidize the development and construction of an Israeli-built communications satellite, the Amos-8. Set to be designed and built in Israel within four years by Israel Aerospace Industries, it will be the seventh in a series of Israeli communications satellites. The first satellite in the series, Amos-1, was launched in 1996, primarily for home television transmissions.

The lifespan of existing satellites is 15-20 years. All Amos satellites were developed by IAI, except for Amos-5, which was developed by JSC Reshetnev and with which contact was lost in November 2015. Spacecom currently operates three communications satellites – Amos-3, Amos-4 and Amos-7, which it leases for up to five years.

Although AMOS is an acronym for Affordable Modular Optimized Satellite, the name originates with the biblical prophet believed to have lived in about 750 BCE. This Amos, however, is not a prophet of gloom and doom, but one of hope and promise. With Amos-17, it can be argued, the modern State of Israel is helping to fulfill Isaiah’s prophesy of becoming a light unto the nations – especially those in Africa.

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