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Beluga Whales Deliver Satellite Stork-Style to Florida: Eutelsat 36D Gets a Lift from Airbus’ Flying Giant

Toulouse, 11 March 2024 – In an operation that sounds more like a delivery from a whimsical version of Amazon, the Airbus-built Eutelsat 36D geostationary telecommunications satellite was recently chauffeured from Toulouse, France, straight to Sanford, Florida, not by a flock of storks, but aboard the more mechanically inclined Airbus BelugaST, also known as the A300-600ST. This satellite’s holiday in the sun will be brief, though, as it’s slated to skyrocket into space from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, hitching a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this month.

Not to be outshone by its more glamorous cargo, the BelugaST, with its whale-like proportions, demonstrates Airbus’ commitment to keeping the skies interesting. This particular voyage marks a step towards retirement for the BelugaST fleet, as the newer, roomier BelugaXLs, based on the A330-200, take over the skies, allowing their predecessors to focus on delivering oversized packages worldwide, much like an airborne FedEx for the astronomically inclined.

The Eutelsat 36D isn’t just any satellite; it’s a high-flying multi-tasker designed to provide television broadcasting and government services across a vast audience spanning Africa, Europe, and several eastern countries. Its expected service life of over 15 years is a testament to the enduring relationships and technological advancements championed by Airbus and Eutelsat, who have been cosmic companions for over three decades.

Philippe Pham, the brain behind Airbus’ Telecommunications & Navigation Systems, couldn’t hide his enthusiasm, stating, “Eutelsat 36D represents the zenith of our more than 30-year cosmic camaraderie with Eutelsat. As the 22nd geo satellite we’ve constructed for them, it’s set to broaden our horizons over Africa and Eurasia.”

Sporting 70 physical Ku-band transponders and boasting an all-electric demeanor, Eutelsat 36D is the latest evolution in the Eurostar Neo satellite lineage, blending increased payload capacity with more efficient power and thermal control systems. Its electric propulsion, a shining example of Airbus’ Electric Orbit Raising (EOR) capabilities, not only lightens the launch load but also positions Airbus as the celestial leader in electric propulsion technology.

The Eurostar Neo, a brainchild of collaborative efforts with the European Space Agency (ESA), the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and the UK Space Agency (UKSA), is poised to revolutionize telecommunications satellites with its next-gen platform and technologies.

This whimsical journey of Eutelsat 36D aboard the BelugaST marks the third instance of an Airbus geostationary satellite being delivered to the Kennedy Space Center, underscoring Airbus’ unique European solution for satellite transport. As the Eutelsat 36D preps for its celestial debut, it’s clear that Airbus and its Beluga fleet continue to redefine the boundaries of air and space transport, one giant leap (or flight) at a time.

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