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Ariane 5 Rocket Makes Record Sixth Launch in a Year

Ariane 5 Rocket Successfully Orbits Satellite Pair
An Ariane 5 GS launcher lifts off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on Dec. 21, 2007. (Image credit: ESA - CNES - Arianespace/SOV-CSG.)

KOUROU,French Guiana -- Europe's Ariane 5 rocket on Friday successfully launchedtelecommunications satellites for a U.S.-Japanese joint venture and a startupcompany that will offer telephone and Internet service throughout Africa after a decade-long struggle for financing.

Thelaunch, from the Guiana Space Center here, was the sixthAriane 5 liftoff this year for Europe's Arianespace commercial-launchconsortium, a calendar-year record the company hopes to surpass in 2008 with sevenor eight Ariane 5 liftoffs.

TheFriday launch carried into orbit the Horizons-2 satellite, built by OrbitalSciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., for a joint venture of Intelsat of Washingtonand JSAT Corp. of Tokyo. Horizons-2, the second satellite for the jointventure, will be placed at 74 degrees west longitude. For Intelsat, Horizons-2will replace the SBS-6 spacecraft, which is being retired after 17 years inorbit. Horizons-2 weighed 2,304 kilograms at launch and is expected to operateits 20 Ku-band transponders for 15-17 years.

Intelsatand JSAT will use the satellite for telecommunications services thoughout thecontinental United States, the Caribbean and parts of Canada. The satellite was already 40 percent booked before launch, according to Intelsatofficials.

Alsoplaced into geostationary transfer orbit was the Rascom-QAF1 satellite, for theRascomStar-QAF company registered in Port Louis, Mauritius. Rascom'sshareholders are 45 African nations, led by Libya, which have invested inRascom as a way of reducing their dependence on non-African satellite suppliers.

Passingthrough various configurations and ownership structures, Rascom has been tryingfor more than a decade to assemble the program. With the entry of Libya AfricaInvestment Portfolio, a Libyan investment fund, and the Libyan General Post andTelecommunications Co., and later by three African development banks, the $370million package was secured.

Rascom-QAF1,built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy -- which is a shareholder inRascom -- carries eight C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders. It will operatefrom 2.85 degrees east longitude, an orbital slot made available toRascomStar-QAF -- QAF stands for Qamar Afrikir, or African moon -- by thegovernment of the Ivory Coast.

Rascom'sother mission is to provide telecommunications links to up to 130,000 ruraltelephone cabins. RascomStar-QAF expects to purchase the first 15,000 of theseterminals in a contract expected to be signed with a terminal manufacturer tobe selected by March. Once the design has proven itself, RascomStar-QAF expectsthat African telecommunications companies will purchase and deploy the cabinson their own.

RascomStar-QAFofficials say the goal is to be able to offer these terminals for about $1,200apiece, including a small solar panel to provide electricity, once the researchand design costs have been amortized by the first RascomStar-QAF-financed15,000 units.


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Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for 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