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Sea Launch Rocket Hauls New HDTV Satellite into Orbit

Sea Launch Rocket Hauls New HDTV Satellite into Orbit
A Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket launches the DirecTV-11 HDTV satellite into orbit on March 19, 2008 from the Odyssey platform on the equatorial Pacific Ocean. (Image credit: Sea Launch.)

Roaring into space from asea-based mobile platform, a powerful direct-to-home broadcasting satellite wasdelivered into orbit Wednesday to expand DirecTV's lineup of high-definitiontelevision programming in the United States.

Fastened atop a Zenit 3SLrocket, the 13,058-pound (5,923-kg) DirecTV 11 satellite began its ride intospace at 2248 GMT (6:48 p.m. EDT) Wednesday with a blastoff from the Odysseylaunch platform stationed along the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Managers delayed the launchfrom Monday to review a technical issue, according to a statement by Sea LaunchCo., the launch service provider.

The Ukrainian-built Zenit'sfirst stage engine, producing 1.6 million pounds of thrust, lifted the rocketthrough overcast skies to an altitude of more than 225,000 feet (68,580 meters)during the first two-and-a-half minutes of the flight. The booster's secondstage took over for a six-minute burn, before giving way to the Block DM-SLupper stage nearly nine minutes after launch.

The Russian Block DM-SLengine put DirecTV 11 into a preliminary orbit 13 minutes into the mission.After a half-hour coast, the kerosene-fueled stage fired again for sevenminutes to reach the planned geosynchronous transfer orbit stretching from alow point of about 155 miles to a high point of 22,671 miles.

DirecTV 11 was releasedfrom the upper stage 61 minutes after launch, and Sea Launch officials hailedthe mission as a success. But it was expected to take several hours for a SouthAfrica ground station to receive the first signals from the satellite.

"We're proud of ourrole in (DirecTV's) continued success as they roll out their high-definitionservice," said Rob Peckham, Sea Launch president and general manager.

Next up for DirecTV 11 willbe a series of burns using the spacecraft's on-board propulsion system to reachits final orbit in the geosynchronous belt along the equator at 99.2 degreeswest longitude.

Thespacecraft will also deploy its twin power-producing solar array wings. Thepanels span 158 feet tip-to-tip.

"We still have a lotleft to do with the satellite," said Phil Goswitz, DirecTV vice presidentof space and communications. "We've got to do our orbit-raising, and thenour deployments and our in-orbit testing, so...we'll have many of theseheart-wrenching moments, but it's all exciting and we'll make this a successfor our subscribers."

Designed for a 15-yearmission, DirecTV 11 will use a multitude of Ka-band communications instrumentsto reach the company's 16.6 million customers across the United States.

The craft contains nearly adozen Ka-band reflectors, including two large antennas 9.2 feet in diameter.

The satellite was built byBoeing Co.'s commercial satellite manufacturing division based in California.The craft is based on the company's Boeing 702 satellite bus.

DirecTV 11 and DirecTV 10,a predecessor launched last summer, will significantly increase DirecTV'shigh-definition television programming across the country. The two satelliteswill allow DirecTV to broadcast local HDTV channels to 90 percent of itscustomers, according to Boeing.

Goswitz said each DirecTVsatellite beams about 750 channels to customers, but only about 70 channels arebroadcast across the country. The others are mostly local network affiliatesand regional channels.

DirecTV 11 is the fourthhigh-definition broadcasting satellite in the company's fleet, and the craftwill double the number of local markets served by DirecTV's network of HDTVchannels, according to Goswitz.

The satellite will alsoallow DirecTV to switch more nationwide channels to HDTV.

"We currently havealmost 100 channels of high-definition, like ESPN and HBO and Disney and all ofeveryone's favorites," Goswitz said. "DirecTV 11 will add anadditional 50 channels to that.

"By the time (DirecTV)11 is up and in orbit and operating, we'll have 150 channels of high-definitionand we'll have 150 markets of local (HDTV) channels," Goswitz said.

Boeingis also manufacturing DirecTV 12, a sister satellite that will furthersupplement the DirecTV fleet's capacity.

The launch of DirecTV 12will bring the total of national HDTV channels in the company's lineup to about200, according to Goswitz.

Catalysts for the increaseduse of HDTV broadcasting satellites by DirecTV and rival DISH Network have beenthe explosive growth of the market for high-definition television sets and aleap in space technology. Goswitz said the development of high-power satellitesallows spacecraft to transmit sharper video to receiving dishes at homes andbusinesses.

"Everyone hascontributed to basically doubling the business, especially with respect to thesatellites," Goswitz said. "That kind of vivid detail and color withhigh-definition takes five times the satellite capacity to do what we used todo for standard video."

Sea Launch will next turnits attention to the first mission of the company's Land Launch subsidiary,which will use modified Zenit rockets flown from the Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan.

Land Launch's inventoryincludes both two-stage and three-stage rockets tailored for low Earth orbitand geosynchronous orbit delivery missions, respectively.

The first Land Launchrocket, known as the Zenit 3SLB, rolled to Baikonur's Complex 45 last month tobegin several weeks of pathfinder activities. The tests included fit checksbetween the booster and the pad, countdown rehearsals, and filling thelauncher's three stages with liquid oxygen, according to Roscosmos, the Russianspace agency.

Testing successfullywrapped up last week, and the rocket returned to its assembly building forfinal pre-launch preparations, which will include receiving its 3,300-poundsatellite payload.

The Zenit 3SLB will launchthe Israeli AMOS 3 communications satellite, which will facilitatecommunications between the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

The first of three LandLaunch missions on the books for this year, the flight is scheduled to get offthe ground in late April or May, said Paula Korn, a Sea Launch spokesperson.

Four more Sea Launchmissions are also scheduled for the remainder of 2008, with roughly one launchevery other month, Korn said.

The next Sea Launch flightis expected in May with the Galaxy 18 communications satellite for Intelsat.

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