Two communications satellitesdestined to serve millions of Americans were delivered to space Friday eveningto begin their television and Internet broadcasting missions.
Liftoff of the Ariane 5 ECArocket occurred on-time at 2208 GMT (5:08 p.m. EST) from the ELA-3 launch padin Kourou, French Guiana [image].
The 166-foot (55-meter)tall rocket flew east from South America's northeast coast, dropping its twosolid rocket boosters and first stage in the Atlantic Ocean before finallyreleasing the WildBlue 1 and AMC 18 satellites about a half-hour into theflight.
The Ariane 5 placed thesatellites in the planned elliptical geostationary transfer orbit stretchingfrom a low point of around 155 miles (249 kilometers) to a high point of morethan 22,300 miles (35,888 kilometers). The targeted inclination wasapproximately 2 degrees.
Both payloads will bemaneuvered into a circular geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the Equatorin the coming weeks. WildBlue 1 will be positioned at 111 degrees Westlongitude above the Pacific Ocean, while AMC 18 will operate from 105 degreesWest longitude.
WildBlue 1 is beginning a15-year mission to provide broadband Internet services to more customers acrossthe United States. The 10,439-pound satellite will triple the broadbandcapacity offered by Colorado-based WildBlue Communications, Inc.
"We've taken a majorstep in the WildBlue history toward increasing our subscriber capacity [by]greater than 500,000 customers [that] we can add onto our network with thissatellite," said Jim Elliot, vice president of infrastructure forWildBlue.
Built by SpaceSystems/Loral, the satellite features a Ka-band communications payloadutilizing 35 geographical spot beams focused on regions throughout thecontiguous United States. The system will provide wireless high speed Internetto rural homes and offices that are often far removed from terrestrialnetworks.
"That will help ussatisfy the tremendous demand that we're having for our service, and that is tobring high-speed Internet access all over the United States of America,"Elliot said in a post-launch speech.
WildBlue has been usingKa-band systems aboard the Canadian Anik F2 satellite, and company officialssay they will continue leasing capacity from the spacecraft in the future.
WildBlue's Internet serviceis about 30 times faster than typical dial-up connections, according to thecompany's Web site.
SES AMERICOM's AMC 18broadcasting satellite was also put into orbit Friday. The craft carries 24C-band transponders that will reach users across the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean during the next 15 years. The 4,588-pound satellite was manufactured byLockheed Martin.
Programming offered throughAMC 18 will include a variety of cable television networks, including high definitionchannels. AMC 18 joins 18 other active spacecraft in SES AMERICOM's fleet.
"The mission is reallyto support the cable companies for cable programming and the high demand forhigh definition TV," said Dennis Huyler, spacecraft mission director for SESAMERICOM.
Friday's launch was the 5thand final flight for Ariane rocket family this year. Each of the company'smissions in 2006 used the Ariane 5 ECA vehicle and carried multiple payloads.
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