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Ariane 5 Rocket Launches Communications Satellite Pair

Ariane 5 Rocket Launches Communications Satellite Pair
An Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket launches the Intelsat 11 and Optus D2 satellites into orbit from Europe's Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. (Image credit: Arianespace.)

An Ariane 5 rocket blastedaway from its jungle launch pad in South America on Friday night, overcoming atechnical glitch that stopped an initial countdown with just 10 seconds left onthe clock.

The giant booster wasaiming for an on-time launch at 5:28 p.m. EDT (2128 GMT) to haul a pair ofcommunications satellites into orbit. But the computer-controlled countdownsequence was halted after a problem was detected at the ELA-3 launch pad.

Engineers scrambled toresolve the problem and reset the countdown. The quick work paid off and afresh seven-minute count commenced at the Guiana Space Center. The remotelaunch base is located on the northeastern coast of South America in Kourou,French Guiana.

The hydrogen-fueled mainengine rumbled to ignition at 6:02 p.m. (EDT 2202 GMT), followed seven secondslater withthe blinding flash of the twin solid-fuel rocket motors firing to life forliftoff.

Roaring through a few lowclouds, the launcher pitched eastward for its half-hour flight to reachgeosynchronous transfer orbit with the Intelsat 11 and Optus D2 satellitepayloads stacked aboard.

The solid motors burned outand fell away two-and-a-half-minutes into the ascent, leaving the cryogenicmain stage to continue propelling the vehicle for another seven minutes. Astorable propellant upper stage then took over to power the two OrbitalScience-built satellites to their intended altitude.

Arianespace reported theelliptical injection orbit had a high point of 22,316 miles, a low point of 363miles and inclination of four degrees to the equator.

The Intelsat 11 spacecraftwas deployed first, separating nearly 28 minutes after liftoff. A dual-payloadlaunch structure was jettisoned soon thereafter, enabling Optus D2 to bereleased 32 minutes into the ascent.

It was the 20th consecutivesuccessful launch for the heavy-duty Ariane 5 rocket fleet.

Intelsat 11 is designed torelay direct-to-home TV broadcasting and data networking services to LatinAmerica when it enters service later this year. The craft is equipped with 16C- and 18 Ku-band transponders.

Controllers will maneuverthe satellite into a circulargeostationary orbit 22,300 miles above Earth where it can match the planet'srotation and remain parked at 43 degrees West longitude over the equator.

Intelsat says the newcraft, with its 16-year life span, will replace the firm's aging Intelsat 6Band 3R satellites.

In Friday night'spost-launch jubilations, Kenneth Lee, the Intelsat vice president of spacesystems management and planning, thanked Arianespace for the smooth ride givento the Intelsat 11 spacecraft. Ariane rockets have launched 47 satellites forIntelsat since 1983.

"This is the reasonthat we keep coming back for more," Lee said. "Once again, you havedemonstrated flexibility, while meeting all of the things that we need -delivering 100 percent."

The Optus D2 satellite willbe used for television and communications services to Australia and NewZealand. It features two dozen Ku-band transponders and a design life exceeding15 years.

Just like its launchpartner, the Optus D2 is destined for geostationary orbit. The satellite isheaded for 152 degrees East longitude over the equator to replace the Optus B3craft launched in 1994.

Orbital Sciences hasdeveloped a growing niche for small geostationary communications satellites.Friday's liftoff marked the first time that two such spacecraft had been pairedtogether to launch aboard a single rocket.

"Both Intelsat andOptus are very important and valued customers of Orbital and we are committedto extending our history of carrying out successful missions for them,"said Senior Vice President Christopher Richmond, head of Orbital's GEOcommunications satellite programs.

The Ariane 5 rocket hasflown four times this year and Arianespace is planning two more. Next on theschedule is a liftoff November 9 carrying the British Skynet 5B militarycommunications satellite and the Brazilian STAR ONE C1 telecommunicationsspacecraft.

Arianespace says itshealthy order book for upcoming launches includes:

  • 27 satellites to be launched into geostationary transfer orbit, using Ariane 5 and possibly Russian Soyuz boosters for the smaller spacecraft
  • 11 governmental launches by Ariane 5, including nine for the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicles to the International Space Station
  • 10 Soyuz launches (six from the new pad being built in Kourou and four from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan)

The next commercial Soyuzis scheduled for launch from Baikonur on October 21 carrying replacementsatellites for the Globalstar mobile telephone network.

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Justin Ray

Justin Ray is the former editor of the space launch and news site Spaceflight Now, where he covered a wide range of missions by NASA, the U.S. military and space agencies around the world. Justin was space reporter for Florida Today and served as a public affairs intern with Space Launch Delta 45 at what is now the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station before joining the Spaceflight Now team. In 2017, Justin joined the United Launch Alliance team, a commercial launch service provider.