Two Satellites in Orbit After Good Ride from Ariane 5
The Ariane 5 rocket is seen here on its launch pad during the countdown.
Credit: Arianespace

An Ariane 5 rocket roared out of its jungle launch base Monday to put Arab and Asian commercial communications satellites into space, marking yet another successful ascent for the heavy-duty booster.

Riding the combined power of twin solid rockets and a hydrogen-fueled main engine, the Ariane 5 lifted off at 2147 GMT (5:47 p.m. EDT) from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern shore of South America.

The solids burned for just over two minutes, then peeled away as the core stage powered the rocket for another six-and-a-half minutes while soaring eastward across the Atlantic and climbing to space.

Carrying two payloads that have interesting origins, with one satellite waiting nearly a decade to fly and the other ordered as a replacement following a Russian launch accident, the Ariane's cryogenic upper stage performed a 14-minute firing to achieve the highly elliptical target orbit.

The ProtoStar 1 spacecraft was released first, followed by ejection of the rocket's dual payload attachment system and then the BADR 6 satellite was successfully deployed.

The satellites will be maneuvered into circular geostationary orbits 22,300 miles above the equator where they can match Earth's rotation and appear parked over one spot of the globe.

ProtoStar 1 is the first craft for the satellite operator of the same name. With operations in San Francisco and Singapore, the company plans to operate spacecraft and lease the satellites' capacity to direct-to-home (DTH) television and broadband Internet service providers across the Asia-Pacific region.

Space Systems/Loral originally built the spacecraft in the 1990s for the China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite Corp. But U.S. export problems prevented the craft, then known as the Chinasat 8, from being shipped to the Chinese launch base for a planned liftoff in mid-1999 aboard a Long March 3B rocket.

A deal finalized two years ago between the Chinasat Corp. and Protostar paved the way for the satellite to be launched and operated by the startup company, and Loral performed some tailored modifications to the craft for the new owner.

"ProtoStar allows its DTH service provider customers to avoid allocating the large capital expenditure investments required to launch their own satellites and instead focus their efforts on the business of DTH, namely with extensive efforts in programming, management, set-top-box procurement, subscriber retention, and ongoing customer care," according the company's website.

"It is through this mechanism that ProtoStar enables its customers to focus on their primary objective: growing their subscriber base."

Companies already signed up to use ProtoStar 1 include a division of DishTV India, PlanetSky of Cyprus and Singapore Telecommunications.

Headed for an orbital slot at 98.5 degrees East longitude with an expected 15-year in-space life span, the satellite is fitted with 38 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders.

"This successful launch is truly the realization of a dream that began in 2002. That's when we first conceptualized our business plan for a new constellation of satellites to meet the growing demand for DTH television service throughout Asia," said Philip Father, ProtoStar's president and CEO.

ProtoStar 2, a Boeing-built satellite, is planned for launch next year.

"Though we are already hard at work on the ProtoStar 2 and 3 satellites, the excitement of getting our first bird successfully into orbit is unrivaled. I'm sure I speak for all of our customers and partners when I say how thrilled we all are to have this first important step behind us," said Father.

The BADR 6 spacecraft — which means "full moon" — will cover the Middle East and North Africa from 26 degrees East to reach an audience of 130 million viewers from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. It will provide direct broadcasting and Internet services though 20 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders.

The Arab Satellite Communications Organization ordered the craft in 2006 immediately after losing its Arabsat 4A spacecraft in a Proton rocket launch failure.

"BADR 6 is the second of Arabsat's 4th generation satellites that are considered to constitute a true milestone in its history since they are characterized by large capacities and high power encompassing the whole Arab world, Africa and Western Asia as the base enabling its strategic rapid expansion of services provision," according to Khalid Balkhyour, Arabsat president and CEO.

Built by Astrium using the final the Eurostar 2000+ craft, it has a 15-year design life. The communications payload was made by Thales Alenia Space.

Monday's launch was the 184th for the Ariane rocket family, the 40th for the Ariane 5 and fourth of the year.

The next Ariane 5 launch is planned for August carrying the Japanese Superbird 7 communications satellite and the American AMC 21 television broadcast spacecraft.

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