DALLAS – This past weekend, the Airbus Beluga landed at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The outsized cargo aircraft delivered the Eutelsat HOTBIRD 13G satellite, built by Airbus. This occurred just hours after its twin, HOTBIRD 13F, was launched successfully by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The spacecraft are the first members of Airbus’s new “Eurostar Neo” family of telecommunications satellites, which are based on a next-generation platform and technologies developed with the help of the European Space Agency (ESA) and others, including the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the UK Space Agency (UKSA).

The BelugaST satellite transport mission arrived in the US on Friday, landing at Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) in Florida at noon local time.

BelugaST nose view. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Back in the US after 14 Years

This is the first time the Beluga has visited the United States since 2009 when it delivered the International Space Station European module “Tranquility.”

The Beluga used 30% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) on its departure flight from Toulouse for this latest mission, supporting Airbus’ decarbonization ambitions.

With the introduction of the new BelugaXL, which is based on the larger A330-200 platform, the existing BelugaST fleet is gradually being made available for outsized freight transport services around the world.

That means there’s more chance for aviation enthusiasts to catch the flying whale in action.

Photos: Airbus

Comments from Airbus Officials

The BelugaST has been performing missions for various customers globally since the debut of the new Airbus Beluga Transport service in January 2022. So where will we see the flying whale next?

At a media event this morning, Airbus told Airways that the BelugaST will fly one more time to Asia this year and that Airbus plans for the Beluga to return to US skies in 2023.

Asked what other continents will the BelugaST touch down on, the European aerospace manufacturer said it would like to see the aircraft fly to Greenland and possibly Africa.

Regarding the satellite transport mission to KSC, Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus, said, “It is a true honour to consecutively showcase two satellites for our customer Eutelsat: two pieces of European technology at the iconic Kennedy Space Center.”

Nasr added, “The ability of Airbus to field an autonomous European solution is underscored by the transportation of our satellites in the unique Beluga aircraft – a true example of pan-Airbus synergies!”

Photo: Airbus

New Loading Capabilities

This year, Airbus developed new loading processes and equipment to maximize the BelugaST’s reactivity and rapid turnaround capability required by its projected worldwide customer base.

To that purpose, an automated onboard cargo loader (OBCL) allows missions from/to airports that lack a suitable loading/unloading platform, as well as missions with payloads weighing up to 20t.

This OBCL is transportable inside the aircraft (stored in front of the internal payload hold area) and capable of autonomously loading and unloading the payload.

Photo: Airbus

To complement the OBCL, and for the heaviest and longest cargo, Airbus has also developed a redesigned transportable Outboard Platform (OP). These OPs (at least six to start with) will be strategically pre-positioned at various airports around the world and be “easily transportable prior to a mission at short notice.”

The third loading innovation is the new Multi-Purpose-Pallet (MPP) designed and manufactured by Airbus at its St Eloi and Nantes facilities.

Compatible with a variety of payloads, the MPP and its cargo is lifted by around five meters above the apron level and loaded through the Beluga’s nose aperture using either the OBCL or OB mentioned above.

Featured image: Beluga transport in the air. Photo: Airbus

Source: airwaysmag.com

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