PARIS - AChinese Long March 3B rocket successfully placed the Chinasat-9direct-broadcast television satellite into geostationary transfer orbit June 9 -a launch that caused public-relations discomfort for both Chinese authoritiesand satellite builder Thales Alenia Space, for different reasons.
Chinasat 9,a Spacebus 4000 satellite platform, is expected to operate for 15 years at 92.2degrees east longitude.
Chinesegovernment authorities have been upset with the French government in recentweeks following a demonstration-marred passage of the Olympic flame throughParis in April and the near-simultaneous decision by the Paris city council tomake the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen - an act that the Chinese ForeignMinistry termed "a grave provocation." For that reason, industryofficials said, China will not be drawing attention to the fact that Chinasat 9was made in France.
For ThalesAlenia Space, the launch highlighted the fact that the French-Italian firm isalone among the world's major commercial satellite builders to be able toexport satellites to China for launch onthe Chinese rockets. The other manufacturers all use U.S.-built componentswhose export to China is barred by current U.S. technology-export policy.
Competitors,particularly Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., have sought to putpressure on Thales Alenia Space by stimulating congressional action that wouldmake it difficult for Thales North America - part of the same Thales Group thatowns a majority share in Thales Alenia Space - to win U.S. Defense Departmentbusiness unless it refuses to export satellites to China.
No one hasalleged that Thales Alenia Space has violated any U.S. laws, but Thalesofficials nonetheless have elected to apply discretion when talking about thecompany's Chinese satellite customers, or non-Chinese customers who have chosento use the Chinese launch vehicle.
Thesituation was far different in 2004, when the $145 million Chinasat 9 contractwas signed in the presence of China's vice premier and the French primeminister.
Chinasat 9carries 18 36-megahertz Ku-band transponders and four 54-megahertz Ku-bandtransponders. It will be operated by China Satcom, notably to broadcastOlympic Games events.
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Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com 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 http://www.sciwriter.us