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Multi-billion Dollar Broadband Dream Rockets Into Reality With Launch

An International Launch Services Proton rocket launches the new SkyTerra 1 satellite into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Nov. 14, 2010.
An International Launch Services Proton rocket launches the new SkyTerra 1 satellite into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Nov. 14, 2010. (Image credit: ILS)

Designedto beam broadband messages to smart phones from more than 22,000 milesinspace, a massive spacecraft blasted off Sunday from the plains ofKazakhstan ona Proton rocket in the first phase of deploying a unique wirelesscommunications network stretching across North America.

The11,900-pound satellite, named SkyTerra1, willjoin traditional terrestrial cell networks to shape afourth-generation, or 4G,wireless system designed to reach nearly every American by the end of2016. [Photoof the satellite launch]

Theambitious plan is a project of LightSquared, a Virginia-based firm with$2.9billion in fresh financing from Harbinger Capital Partners of New York.LightSquared, which recently changed its name from SkyTerra, alsoclaimsanother $1.75 billion in equity financing from other sources.

Sunday'slaunch will allow LightSquared to meet its commitments to the FederalCommunications Commission, the regulatory agency managing broadbandcommunications spectra in the United States.

TheProtonrocket soared into starry skies from the Baikonur Cosmodromeat 1729 GMT(12:29 p.m. EST) on the blue-orange flame of six main engines. Thethree-stagebooster seemed to work flawlessly and handed over to the Breeze M upperstageless than 10 minutes after liftoff.

TheBreeze M ignited a few minutes later to propel the payload into astableparking orbit about 110 miles high, according to International LaunchServices,the U.S.-based firm overseeing commercial Proton flights.

Fourmore Breeze M burns were expected to reach an orbit stretching from alow pointof 3,750 miles to a peak altitude of more than 22,200 miles. Theplannedinclination at spacecraft separation was 19 degrees, according toKhrunichev,the Proton rocket's prime contractor.

ILSdeclared the launch a success in a statement released late Sunday afterspacecraft separation.

"Itis very exciting for ILS to be a key partner for the launch of the SkyTerra1 satellite for LightSquared, the new innovator for wirelessbroadband," said Frank McKenna, president of ILS.

SkyTerra1 will raise its orbit with an on-board liquid-fueled boost engine. Thesatellite will ultimately be positioned in geosynchronous orbit 22,300milesabove the equator at 101.3 degrees west longitude, in view of potentialcustomers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

"AtLightSquared, our goal is to revolutionize wireless communications andourtimeline to do that is very aggressive. We knew we could count on ILSand ILSProton to help us maintain a steady pace with an on-time launch," saidSanjiv Ahuja, chairman and CEO of LightSquared. "The ILS Proton launchofthe SkyTerra 1 satellite is an important step toward bringing mobilewirelessservices that are accessible anytime, anywhere, throughout the UnitedStates.We are grateful to the entire team of dedicated professionals whoworked on theSkyTerra 1 launch."

Anothersatellite, SkyTerra 2, will launch on a Proton rocket in 2011 to finishLightSquared's space segment. Both spacecraft are based on the Boeing702HP busplatform.

Thecompany is also developing and installing a terrestrial network.

"What'sso special about (LightSquared) is it will provide, for the very firsttime,mobile communications in North America anytime, anywhere, any place,"saidSteve O'Neill, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International Inc."This service does not drop off and will cover both urban and ruralareasbecause we can provide that capability from space."

Boeingalso developed four gateway ground stations to operate the SkyTerrasatellites.

"LightSquaredis providing not just this mobile communication, but rather they areprovidinga public service," O'Neill said.

Thecompany says it will generate more than 100,000 direct and indirectprivatesector jobs through the construction and operation of the LightSquarednetwork,realizing the FCC's wish of expanding the reach and reliabilitybroadbandservices.

"Thebest example of that would be what happened during Hurricane Katrina,"O'Neill said. "Unfortunately, the National Guard had no ability tocommunicate because all the terrestrial systems were down. What thisservicewill provide is the ability to have 20 times the capability tocommunicate forall first responders anywhere in North America."

SkyTerra1 will unfurl the largest commercial antenna reflector ever built,stretching72 feet in diameter. The L-band reflector was built by Harris Corp.

Thespacecraft is designed to work for at least 15 years.

Sunday'slaunch is the 10th Proton flight of 2010.

Onemore commercial Proton rocket is scheduled for liftoff in December withthe KA-SATcommunications satellite for Eutelsat. A Russian government Proton isalsoexpected to launch three Glonass navigation satellites next month.

Copyright 2010,all rights reserved.

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Stephen Clark is the Editor of Spaceflight Now, a web-based publication dedicated to covering rocket launches, human spaceflight and exploration. He joined the Spaceflight Now team in 2009 and previously wrote as a senior reporter with the Daily Texan. You can follow Stephen's latest project at (opens in new tab) and on Twitter (opens in new tab).