China conducted its first commercial launch in six years Tuesday as a Long March rocket hauled a telecommunications satellite into orbit to serve users across the Asia-Pacific region.

Liftoff of the three-stage Long March 3B rocket with four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters was from the Xichang space launch center in southwestern China's Sichuan province at 1200 GMT (8:00 a.m. EDT).

The 10,300-pound Apstar 6 spacecraft separated from the Long March upper stage into a geostationary transfer orbit with a low point of 209 kilometers, a high point of 49,991 kilometers, and an inclination of 26 degrees.

Apstar 6 will gradually be guided into a circular geostationary orbit over the next few weeks, followed by a regimen of tests and system checkouts before the new satellite goes into commercial service starting in June.

The craft's operational position will be about 22,300 miles high, where its orbit will match the rotation of Earth along the equator at 134 degrees East longitude or above New Guinea.

Apstar 6 joins four previous spacecraft operated by APT Satellite Holdings Limited launched over the past decade. This new satellite replaces the aging Apstar 1A that entered service in 1996 to cover the same region.

"We are thrilled with today's spectacular launch and it also demonstrates our commitment to engineering excellence with a new generation Apstar 6 satellite. We applaud the diligent efforts of our satellite manufacturer - Alcatel Space and the launch service provider - China Great Wall Industry Corporation, that culminated today in a flawless liftoff," said Chen Zhaobin, Executive Director and President of the APT Satellite Group.

"At the same time, we would also like to express our sincere gratitude towards our Apstar 1A customers, and those customers who would soon become our Apstar 6 customers, for their utmost support over the years."

Its 38 C-band transponders will greatly expand previous capacity offered by APT Satellite to users in China, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, the Pacific islands, and Hawaii. In addition, 12 Ku-transponders are on-board to focus on Chinese customers. Officials also say Apstar 6 is the first commercial satellite in China to be fitted with an anti-jamming capability.

Users in China will include CCTV - the central nationwide state-run broadcast network, along with a number of other smaller organizations that provide broadband and digital multimedia transmissions.

"The successful launch of Apstar 6 is not only a great leap of (APT Satellite) but also a new milestone to our business strategy of providing state-of-the-art satellites which would enable us to bring more services to our customers. The high power and coverage area of Apstar 6 would become the next generation home of premier TV broadcasters."

APT Satellite had encountered some difficulties before liftoff obtaining full insurance coverage for Apstar 6, and had an accident occurred during launch the company would have incurred a direct $50 million loss. The entire value of the Apstar 6 satellite and launch services contracts was quoted at about $183 million.

Built by Alcatel Space of France, Apstar 6 has an expected lifetime of about 14 years. A backup China-built satellite named Apstar 6B could be launched into orbit in the next few years.

Commercial Long March rockets are marketed by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation, which has now completed 23 launches with a commercial primary payload dating back to 1990.

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