Ariane 5 Rocket Successfully Orbits Satellite Pair

Continuing what is supposedto be a banner year with an unprecedented flight rate, the commercial Ariane 5rocket launched again Friday night, lofting a Brazilian broadcast satellite andVietnam's first communications spacecraft.

The heavy-lift boosterblasted away from its jungle launch site on the northeastern shore of SouthAmerica at 2217 GMT (6:17 p.m. EDT) headed for a highly elliptical orbitstretching from 155 miles at its lowest point to 22,325 miles at its furthestand inclined just 2.0 degrees relative to the equator.

While cruising in thattargeted geosynchronous transfer orbit a half-hour after liftoff, the rocket'scryogenic upper stage successfully released the Star One C2 spacecraft, ejectedits dual payload attachment system and then deployed Vinasat 1.

It was the 182nd launch forthe Ariane rocket family, the 38th for the Ariane 5 and second of the year.Operator Arianespace plans to conduct five more Ariane 5 missions in 2008, therocket's busiest pace since it began flying in 1996 and besting the previousmark of six launches conducted last year.

"The launchers keepgoing up and the contracts keep coming in," said Jean-Yves Le Gall,Arianespace's chairman and CEO.

This year's first missionoccurred a month ago when the Ariane 5 ES vehicle propelled the massive Jules Vernecargo resupply ship into orbit for the international space station. Theautomated freighter dockedto the station on April 3.

Both satellites launchedFriday night will be maneuvered into circular geostationary orbits 22,300 milesabove the equator where they can match Earth's rotation and appear parked overone spot of the globe.

The Brazilian Star One C2spacecraft will enter service in about a month to relay telecommunications andprovide broadband Internet connections.

"Star One C2 will beplaced at the most important broadcasting position of the Brazilian market, 70degrees West, and will be providing the largest share of the video traffic inBrazil," said Gustavo Silbert, president of the Star One satellite firm.

Built by Thales AleniaSpace at its Cannes facility in France, the 9,000-pound Spacebus 3000B3-modelcraft is equipped with 28 C-band transponders to cover Latin America and 16Ku-band transponders for Brazil, Mexico and parts of the U.S. It also carriesone military X-band transponder.

"The C2 satellite willnow offer additional capacity in Ku-band, allowing new TV services to bedeployed such as DTH -- direct-to-home TV," said Lincoln Oliveira, StarOne's chief technology officer.

Launched with a 15-yeardesign life, the new craft will replace the Brasilsat B2 satellite launched inMarch 1995.

Vinasat 1, as Vietnam'sfirst dedicated telecommunications spacecraft, will bring TV and phone servicesto rural communities and lessen the country's dependance on foreign providersof satellite communications.

"Successfullylaunching the first satellite is of great technological, social and economicsignificance, will help raise Vietnam's image in the international arena andconfirm the sovereignty of Vietnam in space. This is a memorable milestone for Vietnamand its integration into the world economy," Doan Hop Le, Vietnam'sminister of information and communications, said through a translator from thelaunch site.

"Vinasat 1 will helpVietnam bring telecommunications, Internet and television services to allisolated, mountainous and island areas where other means of transmission is notfeasible."

With a launch mass of 5,800pounds, Lockheed Martin built the craft for an expected 15-year in-space lifespan using the A2100-A satellite design.

It was constructed inPennslyvania for Vietnamese Posts and Telecommunications Group with a capacityto broadcast 120 digital television programs or route 10,000 telephone,Internet or data channels.

The spacecraft's orbitalslot at 132 degrees East longitude allows its dozen Ku-band transponders toserve Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and part of Myanmar. The eight onboardC-band transponders will cover Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Southeast Asia, India,Japan and Australia.

"We're, of course,very proud to launch that nation's first satellite," Arianespace boss LeGall said.

"Vietnam will becomethe sixth nation in the region having its own satellite," the ministeradded. "Full operation of Vinasat 1 will facilitate the completion of anational communications infrastructure."

The next Ariane 5 launch isplanned for May 23 carrying the British Skynet 5C military communicationssatellite and the Turkish Turksat 3A communications spacecraft. That rocket hasbeen assembled in preparation for the later installation of its dual satellitepayload.

Arianespace hopes to putthe Ariane 5 program on a pace to launch seven to eight times per year, plusfly two to four Soyuz rockets and two Vega light-payload missions.

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Spaceflight Now Editor

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.