Continuing what is supposed to be a banner year with an unprecedented flight rate, the commercial Ariane 5 rocket launched again Friday night, lofting a Brazilian broadcast satellite and Vietnam's first communications spacecraft.
The heavy-lift booster blasted away from its jungle launch site on the northeastern shore of South America at 2217 GMT (6:17 p.m. EDT) headed for a highly elliptical orbit stretching from 155 miles at its lowest point to 22,325 miles at its furthest and inclined just 2.0 degrees relative to the equator.
While cruising in that targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit a half-hour after liftoff, the rocket's cryogenic upper stage successfully released the Star One C2 spacecraft, ejected its dual payload attachment system and then deployed Vinasat 1.
It was the 182nd launch for the 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, the rocket's busiest pace since it began flying in 1996 and besting the previous mark of six launches conducted last year.
"The launchers keep going up and the contracts keep coming in," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, Arianespace's chairman and CEO.
This year's first mission occurred a month ago when the Ariane 5 ES vehicle propelled the massive Jules Verne cargo resupply ship into orbit for the international space station. The automated freighter docked to the station on April 3.
Both satellites launched Friday night will be maneuvered into circular geostationary orbits 22,300 miles above the equator where they can match Earth's rotation and appear parked over one spot of the globe.
The Brazilian Star One C2 spacecraft will enter service in about a month to relay telecommunications and provide broadband Internet connections.
"Star One C2 will be placed at the most important broadcasting position of the Brazilian market, 70 degrees West, and will be providing the largest share of the video traffic in Brazil," said Gustavo Silbert, president of the Star One satellite firm.
Built by Thales Alenia Space at its Cannes facility in France, the 9,000-pound Spacebus 3000B3-model craft is equipped with 28 C-band transponders to cover Latin America and 16 Ku-band transponders for Brazil, Mexico and parts of the U.S. It also carries one military X-band transponder.
"The C2 satellite will now offer additional capacity in Ku-band, allowing new TV services to be deployed such as DTH -- direct-to-home TV," said Lincoln Oliveira, Star One's chief technology officer.
Launched with a 15-year design life, the new craft will replace the Brasilsat B2 satellite launched in March 1995.
Vinasat 1, as Vietnam's first dedicated telecommunications spacecraft, will bring TV and phone services to rural communities and lessen the country's dependance on foreign providers of satellite communications.
"Successfully launching the first satellite is of great technological, social and economic significance, will help raise Vietnam's image in the international arena and confirm the sovereignty of Vietnam in space. This is a memorable milestone for Vietnam and its integration into the world economy," Doan Hop Le, Vietnam's minister of information and communications, said through a translator from the launch site.
"Vinasat 1 will help Vietnam bring telecommunications, Internet and television services to all isolated, mountainous and island areas where other means of transmission is not feasible."
With a launch mass of 5,800 pounds, Lockheed Martin built the craft for an expected 15-year in-space life span using the A2100-A satellite design.
It was constructed in Pennslyvania for Vietnamese Posts and Telecommunications Group with a capacity to broadcast 120 digital television programs or route 10,000 telephone, Internet or data channels.
The spacecraft's orbital slot at 132 degrees East longitude allows its dozen Ku-band transponders to serve Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and part of Myanmar. The eight onboard C-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 Le Gall said.
"Vietnam will become the sixth nation in the region having its own satellite," the minister added. "Full operation of Vinasat 1 will facilitate the completion of a national communications infrastructure."
The next Ariane 5 launch is planned for May 23 carrying the British Skynet 5C military communications satellite and the Turkish Turksat 3A communications spacecraft. That rocket has been assembled in preparation for the later installation of its dual satellite payload.
Arianespace hopes to put the Ariane 5 program on a pace to launch seven to eight times per year, plus fly two to four Soyuz rockets and two Vega light-payload missions.
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