CANNES,France - A Chinese Long March 3B rocket on July 5 successfully orbitedChinaSatcom's Chinasat 6B telecommunications satellite, the fourth satellitebuilt for Chinese satellite-fleet operators by Thales Alenia Space - the soleWestern satellite builder that has developed a product line designed to avoidU.S. satellite component export restrictions.
Building satellites devoid of U.S. componentspermits the spacecraft to be launched on a Chinese launch vehicle. Current U.S.government policy effectively bars U.S. satellite components from beingexported to China.
Officialsfrom Thales Alenia Space, which is headquartered here, confirmed that Chinasat6B was healthy in orbit following the launch from the Xichang Satellite LaunchCenter in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The spacecraft, a Spacebus 4000C2 satellite frame, weighed 9,920 pounds (4,500kilograms) at launch and carries 38 C-band transponders. ChinaSatcom intends tooperate it from 115.5 degrees east longitude to provide up to 300 televisionprograms in China and elsewhere in East Asia.
ThalesAlenia Space has been cultivating the Chinese satellite market for more than 20years. The company, under its former name Alcatel Alenia Space, builtcomponents for the Chinasat 1 satellite before moving toward completedproducts. The company is the prime contractor for the Sinosat 1, Apstar 6 andChinasat 9 satellites, in addition to Chinasat 6B.
ThalesAlenia Space officials say getting around U.S. State Department restrictions -generally referred to as ITAR, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations -with respect to China's rocket adds around six percent to the cost of atelecommunications satellite. That is because these satellites cannot takeadvantage of U.S. companies whose production lines are active and thus whoseunit costs are reduced - in addition to the fact companies producing in U.S.dollars have an advantage over euro-based companies like Thales Alenia Space.
Officialssaid that, as a general rule, the satellite price increase is more than offsetby the reduced cost of a Chinese rocket compared to European, Russian orAmerican commercial launch vehicles.
Even so,they said they have no intention of moving toward what they refer to as a fully"ITAR-free" product line. Such a move would help reduce the cost ofITAR-free satellites by increasing the production volume, but would run therisk of not being able to keep up with market demand because ITAR-freesatellites rely on a supply chain that would have difficulty increasingthroughput in the short term, Thales Alenia Space officials said.
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Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at http://www.sciwriter.us