Customer profile: O3b Networks Vice President Bob Morris
Bob Morris understands Arianespace launches inside and out. The Vice President of Space Systems for O3b Networks is no stranger to French Guiana, having served earlier in his career as a propulsion engineer for the collaborative U.S.-French TOPEX/Poseidon satellite, launched in 1992 by an Ariane 4 vehicle.
His activity included fueling the spacecraft, dressed in the protective gear called the SCAPE suit (Self-Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble).
Now, two decades later, Morris has come back to the Spaceport – this time in supporting O3b Networks’ creation of a satellite constellation to provide connectivity for billions of users, which is being orbited on three of Arianespace’s Soyuz launches.
Morris, who calls his first trip to French Guiana in the 1990s “a great experience,” has been equally impressed some 20 years later with Arianespace’s current operations.
“The bottom line is, I look at the Arianespace staff as my friends,” Morris said. “In any kind of technical business like this, you work through problems. We are able to work together and that is what’s really important at the end of the day.”
One of the major changes to the Spaceport since Morris’ first experience there is Arianespace’s introduction of Soyuz in French Guiana. The Russian workhorse performed its maiden flight from the Spaceport’s ELS launch zone in October 2011, and has conducted five successful missions to date – including Flight VS05, which lofted O3b Network’s first four satellites in June.
The proven history of this medium-lift vehicle was an important factor for O3b Networks selection of Arianespace to launch the company’s constellation, Morris added. “Who can argue with Soyuz? It’s probably the greatest workhorse launcher we have in this world. In the terms of reliability, it was a no-brainer.”
With its network of 12 satellites, O3b Networks aims to bridge the digital divide – delivering broadband service to the “other three billion” people who live in emerging and insufficiently connected markets in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific.
Arianespace helped this “journey” begin for O3b Networks by successfully orbiting the initial four satellites, manufactured by Thales Alenia Space, during a 2-hour, 22-minute flight on June 25. By late July, O3b Networks had taken over control of all four of its spacecraft via its satellite operations center in Betzdorf, Luxembourg.
The remaining eight O3b satellites will be lofted on two additional missions in groups of four, with the next launch targeted for late September, to be followed by another Soyuz mission in 2014.
“It’s very rare to get an opportunity to work on a program from its initial phase, as I have done with O3b Networks,” Morris said. “I am extremely fortunate to have joined the company early on, and there is a great team around me.”