PARIS - A Chinese Long March 3B rocket successfully placed the Chinasat-9 direct-broadcast television satellite into geostationary transfer orbit June 9 - a launch that caused public-relations discomfort for both Chinese authorities and satellite builder Thales Alenia Space, for different reasons.
Chinasat 9, a Spacebus 4000 satellite platform, is expected to operate for 15 years at 92.2 degrees east longitude.
Chinese government authorities have been upset with the French government in recent weeks following a demonstration-marred passage of the Olympic flame through Paris in April and the near-simultaneous decision by the Paris city council to make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen - an act that the Chinese Foreign Ministry termed "a grave provocation." For that reason, industry officials said, China will not be drawing attention to the fact that Chinasat 9 was made in France.
For Thales Alenia Space, the launch highlighted the fact that the French-Italian firm is alone among the world's major commercial satellite builders to be able to export satellites to China for launch on the Chinese rockets. The other manufacturers all use U.S.-built components whose export to China is barred by current U.S. technology-export policy.
Competitors, particularly Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., have sought to put pressure on Thales Alenia Space by stimulating congressional action that would make it difficult for Thales North America - part of the same Thales Group that owns a majority share in Thales Alenia Space - to win U.S. Defense Department business unless it refuses to export satellites to China.
No one has alleged that Thales Alenia Space has violated any U.S. laws, but Thales officials nonetheless have elected to apply discretion when talking about the company's Chinese satellite customers, or non-Chinese customers who have chosen to use the Chinese launch vehicle.
The situation was far different in 2004, when the $145 million Chinasat 9 contract was signed in the presence of China's vice premier and the French prime minister.
Chinasat 9 carries 18 36-megahertz Ku-band transponders and four 54-megahertz Ku-band transponders. It will be operated by China Satcom, notably to broadcast Olympic Games events.
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