New Astra 2E satellite successfully
launched 29 Sept 2013
(latest news 4 December 2013)
SES Astra, the company that operates the satellites serving the UK, is partway through a programme to replace the ageing satellites that have been operating since the late 1990s. The first of 3 replacements is the Astra 2F which was launched in September 2012, and 2 more are to be launched - the Astra 2E in July this year and the Astra 2G in early 2014. All 3 are built to the same design which incorporates a narrow spot beam. This beam on all 3 satellites will be used to carry the main free channels such as those of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well some Sky channels (notably Sky News which has already transferred from its original wide beam on the Astra 2A satellite).
What is already clear from the characteristics of the current Astra 2F satellite is that the narrow beam is much tighter than the one previously carried by the Astra 2D satellite (now defunct) and even more so than its temporary replacement the Astra 1N satellite. Many expats in various parts of Europe who have been enjoying the BBC and ITV channels for the last few years are now finding they've lost them or are about to.
Caravanners who are preparing to travel down to the south of France this summer will need to plan for the likelihood that they will need a bigger dish than previously. Whereas a 60cm dish would have been sufficient even along the Med coast in good weather, it's now likely that anything up to a 1m or even a 1.2m dish will be needed in some locations. Beyond France and the Benelux countries, the outlook is bleak. The above map shows the official reception footprint of the new satellites using 45cm and 60cm dishes. Note though that in practice, reception should be a bit better than the map shows, but it's still a lot worse than previously.
The upside is that the signal strengths in the UK will be greater and a standard 45cm Sky minidish will suffice even in northern Scotland which until now has needed a 60cm dish. So there will be winners and losers. Expats and visitors to mainland Europe will be unhappy; caravanners in the UK will get a more robust signal.
The latest news of the launch date for Astra 2E is 30 September (22:38 on Sunday 29 Sept UK time). The satellite will then probably enter commercial service sometime in November. The reasons for that are two-fold. First the satellite has to be maneouvered from its initial elliptical orbit into a stable circular orbit which will keep it at the same position relative to the earth's surface. Second, the satellite will go through a series of tests to make sure it performs to its design characteristics. Only then will it begin transmitting real information.
UPDATE 26 SEPTEMBER
Well, barring accident, it really looks like it's going to happen. The launch will take place at 22:38:10 on Sunday night (UK time). The rocket was rolled on to the launchpad earlier today and the final countdown will begin about 12 hours before launch. Here is a Youtube video of the rocket being positioned on the launchpad and then raised into position - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofWWO0d_jOM
UPDATE 29 SEPTEMBER
Watch the launch live here (the live broadcast will commence at 22.15 UK time)
UPDATE 30 SEPTEMBER
Just over 9 hours after a successful launch last night, Astra 2E was manoeuvred into what's called a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GSTO). This means it's parked in a stationary position over the earth's surface, just as it will be when it becomes operational. The GSTO is a temporary position while the craft undergoes rigorous testing prior to moving to 28.2ºE. It means it can receive and transmit a variety of frequencies without having an adverse effect on other operational satellites. This could last several weeks before it begins its move to 28.2ºE. Typically the testing and subsequent move to its operational location can take around 6 weeks, after which we can expect the BBC and other main channels to be transferred. I imagine SES, the satellite operator, will be keen to get this work done as quick;ly as possible because the Astra 1N satellite which currently carries those channels is urgently needed elsewhere and is already overdue because of the issues that have delayed this launch.
So basically, expats in southern Europe have at best another 6 or 7 weeks to watch the main entertainment channels before their screens go blank. Viewers in the UK on the other hand, especially in Scotland and N.Ireland, will get a much stronger signal and will be able to use a smaller dish than has been needed until now.
UPDATE 4 DECEMBER
I'm afraid the 2E is still at its temporary orbital position at 43.5ºE, so it's getting to the stage where it might not go live until after Christmas. SES rarely releases information about its operations in advance so no one is sure why it's taking so long to complete the testing process. All I can say is the satellite will move when it moves, and not before! Even when it does, it will take several days to reach the operational position of 28.2ºE and there will then be a further short period of testing to check the telemetry before channels can begin to migrate. Given that the broadcasters always have a moritorium on channel migration during the Christmas period (to avoid any possibility of viewers' screens going blank!), the window for getting the 2E up and running is rapidly shrinking.
Additional note for owners of some early Oyster dishes
If your automatic dish is no longer working following the current changes to satellites in the Astra 28 fleet, you need to read this note issued by the manufacturer.
Unfortunately, we can no longer
update Caro Vision I controllers to allow them to automatically lock on to
the Astra 2 Satellite due to ongoing changes and updates being made by SES
Astra to the network. Because of the age and limitations of the electronic
components in these control units we are unable to add sufficient data to
allow a full lock. The only thing you can do is to upgrade the system to a
Vision II which would come at a cost of £591.39 + VAT and Delivery
carrying a 3 year warranty. However, I understand that this is a very
heavy lay out so there is another option which is to lock the system
manually. These systems only have a problem with Astra 2 so far as the UK
satellites are being renewed but it will still be able to lock on to other
programmed Satellites as normal. If you do wish to watch the UK channels
there is a way of obtaining a full lock on the Astra 2 Satellite as
First you will need to turn on your
receiver (Sky/Free sat box) and bring up the signal test menu. For Sky
boxes this is done by selecting settings on the remote followed by option
4 and then option 6. Next, turn on your Vision I system and as the dish
raises press the menu button. Scroll across until you find "Search
Satellite" and change it from Astra 2 to Astra 1. Depending on your
current whereabouts, choose the zone for your area (UK-Top, France-Middle,
Spain-Bottom). The system will then search and lock on to the Astra 1
(German) satellite. Once it has fine tuned you will need again scroll
through the menu until you find "Manual Search" and press ok. Once in this
menu the up, down, left and right arrows will manually move the system
(Please note: Depending on your position the Right arrow could move the
system Left and vice versa).
Finally, I recently had an email from the Sales Manager at Oyster Sat Tech Ltd. This company is the UK office for the German manufacturer and he says anyone is welcome to contact his office and discuss any problem they might have with their Oyster dish. His contact number is 01858 575928, or you can email him at email@example.com . The company website is www.oystersat-tech.co.uk.