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China Launches First Commercial Spacecraft in Six Years

China conducted its firstcommercial launch in six years Tuesday as a Long March rocket hauled atelecommunications satellite into orbit to serve users across the Asia-Pacificregion.

Liftoff of the three-stageLong March 3B rocket with four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters was from the Xichang space launch center in southwestern China's Sichuanprovince at 1200 GMT (8:00 a.m. EDT).

The 10,300-pound Apstar 6 spacecraft separated from the Long March upperstage into a geostationary transfer orbit with a low point of 209 kilometers, ahigh point of 49,991 kilometers, and an inclination of 26 degrees.

Apstar 6 will gradually be guided into acircular geostationary orbit over the next few weeks, followed by a regimen oftests and system checkouts before the new satellite goes into commercialservice starting in June.

The craft's operationalposition will be about 22,300 miles high, where its orbit will match therotation of Earth along the equator at 134 degrees East longitude or above NewGuinea.

Apstar 6 joins four previous spacecraftoperated by APT Satellite Holdings Limited launched over the past decade. Thisnew satellite replaces the aging Apstar 1A thatentered service in 1996 to cover the same region.

"We are thrilled withtoday's spectacular launch and it also demonstrates our commitment toengineering excellence with a new generation Apstar 6satellite. We applaud the diligent efforts of our satellite manufacturer -Alcatel Space and the launch service provider - China Great Wall Industry Corporation, that culminated today in a flawless liftoff,"said Chen Zhaobin, Executive Director and Presidentof the APT Satellite Group.

"At the same time, wewould also like to express our sincere gratitude towards our Apstar 1A customers, and those customers who would soonbecome our Apstar 6 customers, for their utmostsupport over the years."

Its 38 C-band transponderswill greatly expand previous capacity offered by APT Satellite to users inChina, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, the Pacific islands, and Hawaii. Inaddition, 12 Ku-transponders are on-board to focus on Chinese customers.Officials also say Apstar 6 is the first commercialsatellite in China to be fitted with an anti-jamming capability.

Users in China will includeCCTV - the central nationwide state-run broadcast network, along with a numberof other smaller organizations that provide broadband and digital multimediatransmissions.

"The successful launchof Apstar 6 is not only a great leap of (APTSatellite) but also a new milestone to our business strategy of providingstate-of-the-art satellites which would enable us to bring more services to ourcustomers. The high power and coverage area of Apstar6 would become the next generation home of premier TV broadcasters."

APT Satellite hadencountered some difficulties before liftoff obtaining full insurance coveragefor Apstar 6, and had an accident occurred duringlaunch the company would have incurred a direct $50 million loss. The entirevalue of the Apstar 6 satellite and launch servicescontracts was quoted at about $183 million.

Built by Alcatel Space ofFrance, Apstar 6 has an expected lifetime of about 14years. A backup China-built satellite named Apstar 6Bcould be launched into orbit in the next few years.

Commercial Long Marchrockets are marketed by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation, which hasnow completed 23 launches with a commercial primary payload dating back to 1990.

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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).