Spaceflight Now:  V127


BY JUSTIN RAY

February 18, 2000 -- Follow the launch of the Superbird 4 communications satellite aboard an Ariane 4 rocket. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

0219 GMT (9:19 p.m. EST)

Superbird 4 manufacturer Hughes Space and Communications reports ground controllers have established contact with the newly launched satellite. These first signals confirm the craft survived its thunderous ride into Earth orbit tonight atop the Ariane 4 rocket.

Over the next few weeks, Superbird 4 will fire its onboard rocket engine to achieve a final operational orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator, ultimately arriving at 162 degrees East. The Ariane rocket deployed the satellite into a highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit with a low point of 124 miles and high point of 22,369 miles.

In addition, the spacecraft's twin solar panels and communications antennas will be deployed. Following a period of on-orbit tests, Hughes will hand control of Superbird 4 to owner Space Communications Corporation (SCC) of Tokyo in about a month. Commercial service for the satellite should start in early April.

We have posted our launch story with a complete summary of the Arianespace Flight 127 mission.

0125 GMT (8:25 p.m. EST)

Plus+21 minutes. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The Superbird 4 communications satellite has successfully separated from the Ariane 4 rocket's third stage to complete Arianespace Flight 127.

Check back later tonight for a wrap-up story on this launch and confirmation first contact with Superbird 4 by ground controllers.

0124 GMT (8:24 p.m. EST)

Plus+20 minutes, 30 seconds. Altitude is 336.2 km, velocity is 9.6 km/sec.

0123 GMT (8:23 p.m. EST)

Plus+19 minutes. Third stage has shut down to complete the powered flight. The stage will now provide the necessary pointing for deployment of Superbird 4 in about two minutes.

0122 GMT (8:22 p.m. EST)

Plus+18 minutes, 30 seconds. The Libreville tracking station in Africa has acquired the Ariane 4 rocket.

0121 GMT (8:21 p.m. EST)

Plus+17 minutes, 30 seconds. About 90 seconds left in third stage burn. Altitude is 197.7 km, velocity is 9.0 km/sec.

0120 GMT (8:20 p.m. EST)

Plus+16 minutes, 30 seconds. The Ariane is beginning to gain altitude again. Current altitude is 187.3 km, velocity is 8.5 km/sec.

0119 GMT (8:19 p.m. EST)

Plus+15 minutes. Less than four minutes left in the third stage burn. All vehicle system parameters are normal.

0118 GMT (8:18 p.m. EST)

Plus+14 minutes. The Ariane rocket has passed out of range from the Natal tracking station. Live data still coming from Ascension Island.

0117 GMT (8:17 p.m. EST)

Plus+13 minutes, 15 seconds. Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean has picked up the rocket's signal. Altitude is 208 km, velocity is 7.2 km/sec.

0115 GMT (8:15 p.m. EST)

Plus+11 minutes. Now reaching the period in flight where the Ariane rocket gives up a bit of altitude in order to gain velocity like a sling-shot. Altitude is 229 km, velocity is 6.46 km/sec.

Also, the rocket is now passed out of range from the tracking station in Kourou.

0114 GMT (8:14 p.m. EST)

Plus+10 minutes. Altitude is 233.3 km, velocity is 6.14 km/sec.

0113 GMT (8:13 p.m. EST)

Plus+9 minutes. The third stage continues to fire with no problems reported. Altitude is 230 km, velocity is 5.9 km/sec.

0112 GMT (8:12 p.m. EST)

Plus+8 minutes. Altitude is 219 km, velocity is 5.6 km/sec.

0111 GMT (8:11 p.m. EST)

Plus+7 minutes. The Natal tracking station in Brazil has acquired the rocket's signal. Altitude is 198.8 km, velocity is 5.4 km/sec.

0110 GMT (8:10 p.m. EST)

Plus+6 minutes. The second stage has completed its burn and separated. Third stage ignition confirmed.

0109 GMT (8:09 p.m. EST)

Plus+5 minutes, 30 seconds. Altitude is 148 km, velocity is 5.0 km/sec.

0108 GMT (8:08 p.m. EST)

Plus+4 minutes, 40 seconds. Payload fairing has separated. All data looks good from the rocket.

0107 GMT (8:07 p.m. EST)

Plus+3 minutes, 42 seconds. Confirmation of the first stage cutoff and separation. Second stage ignition is occurred.

0107 GMT (8:07 p.m. EST)

Plus+3 minutes. Vehicle parameters are normal. Altitude is 56 km, velocity is 1.98 km/sec.

0106 GMT (8:06 p.m. EST)

Plus+2 minutes, 30 seconds. The twin strap-on liquid-propellant boosters have been jettisoned.

0105 GMT (8:05 p.m. EST)

Plus+90 seconds. Two strap-on solids have jettisoned. Altitude is 14 km, velocity is 0.42 km/sec.

0105 GMT (8:05 p.m. EST)

Plus+1 minute. Vehicle has gone into the clouds.

0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST)

Plus+30 seconds. Tower is clear and Ariane is in the pitch maneuver.

0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST)

LIFTOFF! An Ariane 4 rocket launches with Superbird 4 on Arianespace Flight 127.

0103 GMT (8:03 p.m. EST)

Minus 1 minute. Equipment aboard the Ariane 44LP rocket is being switched to onboard batteries for launch.

In the final seconds of the countdown, activities will include releasing the inertial platform at minus 9 seconds, and the release command to the retraction system for the two cryogenic arms will be given at minus 5 seconds.

0102 GMT (8:02 p.m. EST)

Minus 2 minutes. Today's launch will be the 127th for an Ariane rocket, the second of 2000, the 95th Ariane 4 to be flown and the 23rd for an Ariane 44LP configuration vehicle with two liquid propellant and two solid propellant strap-on boosters.

0100 GMT (8:00 p.m. EST)

Minus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The launch time has been loaded aboard the Ariane rocket's guidance system. Also, the Superbird 4 spacecraft is reported to be running on internal power and ready for launch.

0100 GMT (8:00 p.m. EST)

Minus-4 minutes and counting. The launch team is watching over the final topping off of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen supplies aboard the rocket's third stage.

0058 GMT (7:58 p.m. EST)

Minus-6 minutes. The synchronized launch sequence has started. Computers are now in control of this final segment of the launch countdown. Liftoff still targeted for 0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST).

During the last six minutes, the Ariane 44LP rocket, satellite payload and ground systems will be configured for launch. There are two master computers running the countdown. One is responsible for fluids and propellants and the other for final preparation of the electrical systems such as initiating the flight program, activation of the engine steering systems and power transfer from ground supplies to onboard batteries. The computers will control until minus 5 seconds when a majority logic sequencer takes over for first stage engine start at zero seconds. Engine performance checks are done in parallel by the two computers starting at plus 2.8 seconds. Finally, the command will be issued to open the launch table clamps for liftoff.

0056 GMT (7:56 p.m. EST)

Minus-8 minutes and counting. Arianespace reports all systems are "go" across the board. Weather conditions are also acceptable for launch at 0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST).

0054 GMT (7:54 p.m. EST)

Now 10 minutes away from the opening of tonight's 51-minute launch window. Still no update from Arianespace on the weather or countdown status. We expect that in the next minute or two.

0025 GMT (7:25 p.m. EST)

The Ariane 4 rocket is fueled for this second countdown to launch on Flight 127. We are standing by for an update from Arianespace in about 25 minutes on the weather and outlook for tonight's launch.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2000
2130 GMT (4:30 p.m. EST)


Despite a dismal weather forecast, Arianespace continues preparations for this evening's attempt to launch an Ariane 4 rocket from South America. An Arianespace spokeswoman in Washington says the weather is bad and possibly worse than yesterday when the first launch try was scrubbed. The main concern is thick layer clouds over the launch site that could cause the rocket to trigger a lightning strike during liftoff. But officials plan to continue the countdown toward a liftoff at 0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST) in hopes the weather will present an opportunity to launch.

1630 GMT (11:30 a.m. EST)

The second countdown for Arianespace Flight 127 is underway in Kourou, French Guiana, for launch of a European Ariane 4 rocket carrying the Japanese Superbird 4 communications satellite. Liftoff is scheduled to occur tonight at 0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST), the opening of a 51-minute launch window.

The launch, Arianespace's second of 2000, was postponed 24 hours due to thick layered clouds that could have caused the rocket to generate triggered lightning during liftoff.

0145 GMT (8:45 p.m. EST)

SCRUB! Arianespace has decided to postpone tonight's launch of the Ariane 4 rocket with Superbird 4 for 24 hours due to bad weather. Thick clouds over the launch site did not clear in time to permit liftoff during tonight's 51-minute window. Tomorrow's launch window will be unchanged from this attempt: 0104-0155 GMT (8:04-8:55 p.m. EST).

The countdown was stopped at Minus-6 minutes, the last moment before entering the computer-controlled Synchronized Launch Sequence. After passing Minus-6 minutes, computers would be running the countdown. An unplanned hold due to the weather or any other problem inside the sequence would have resulted in the countdown being recycled back to Minus-6 minutes.

0139 GMT (8:39 p.m. EST)

Now 10 minutes left before the countdown must resume from Minus-6 minutes to allow liftoff at the very end of tonight's window at 0155 GMT (8:55 p.m. EST). Weather conditions, specifically thick layered clouds, remain "no go" for launch.

0127 GMT (8:27 p.m. EST)

Weather conditions remain unacceptable for launch. However, officials remain hopeful the thick layered clouds over Kourou will move away shortly. There are 30 minutes remaining in tonight's window in which to launch the Ariane 4 rocket. If liftoff has not occurred by 0155 GMT, the launch will be postponed 24 hours.

At the ELA-2 launch complex, the rocket's third stage cryogenic propellants -- liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen -- are being topped off to keep the tanks full for launch. Given the super-cold nature of the cryos, the fuels naturally boil away during the countdown. Also, the battery trickle charge to the Superbird 4 spacecraft is continuing, Arianespace says.

0116 GMT (8:16 p.m. EST)

Minus-6 minutes and holding. Arianespace reports the thick layered clouds over the launch pad that might cause triggered lightning during liftoff should move clear by half-past the hour. This is a rare situation for Arianespace which rarely encounters weather delays.

0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST)

Tonight's 51-minute launch window is now open. However, the countdown is holding at Minus-6 minutes due to unacceptable weather conditions. Specifically, the concern is triggered lightning. Conditions in Kourou could cause the rocket to generate a bolt of lightning during liftoff.

0059 GMT (7:59 p.m. EST)

Meteorologists say they think the triggered lightning concern will clear in about 30 minutes. Tonight's available launch window extends until 0155 GMT (8:55 p.m. EST). The countdown can remain holding here at Minus-6 minutes until 0149 GMT (8:49 p.m. EST).

0058 GMT (7:58 p.m. EST)

Holding at Minus-6 minutes. Countdown clocks have stopped due to the threat of triggered lightning during launch.

0057 GMT (7:57 p.m. EST)

Minus-7 minutes. The weather conditions are reported to be unacceptable for launch on schedule at 0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST). The countdown will hold at Minus-6 minutes.

0056 GMT (7:56 p.m. EST)

Minus-7 minutes, 50 seconds. A "red" condition has been announced on the status panel. Standing by for word on what the problem is.

0054 GMT (7:54 p.m. EST)

Minus-10 minutes. The countdown continues smoothly. Liftoff remains set to occur at 0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST).

A network of tracking stations are standing ready to relay data from the Ariane 4 rocket to engineers in Kourou. The early portion of flight will be monitored through the Kourou and Cayenne stations in French Guiana. About 6 minutes, 50 seconds into flight the Natal station in Brazil will pick up the rocket's signal as the third stage burn gets underway. At plus 12 minutes, 50 seconds the site on Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean will begin coverage. Libreville in Gabon will provide services for spacecraft separation and the conclusion of Arianespace Flight 127.

0048 GMT (7:48 p.m. EST)

Minus-16 minutes and counting. Tonight will mark the fourth time a Superbird satellite has launched on an Arianespace rocket. The first was Superbird A in June 1989, followed by Superbird B1 in February 1992 and Superbird A1 in December 1992.

0039 GMT (7:39 p.m. EST)

Minus-25 minutes and counting. The cargo to be launched into space tonight aboard the Ariane 4 rocket is the Japanese telecommunications satellite Superbird 4 for Space Communications Corporation (SCC) of Tokyo and builder Hughes Space and Communications.

The craft will join three other Superbird satellites in space to provide communications services to the Asia-Pacific Region. SCC ordered Superbird 4 to expand its capability throughout Japan and surrounding area.

Superbird 4 currently weighs 8,925 pounds on the launch pad. It carries 23 Ku-band and six Ka-band transponders and will have 5.3 kilowatts of power at the end of its 15-year life. The craft will be positioned at 162 degrees East along the Equator some 22,300 miles above the planet.

Superbird 4 arrived in Kourou on January 24. It underwent final testing and fueling before being encapsulation into the payload fairing. The craft was then transferred to the launch pad on February 9 and mated to the Ariane the following day.

Read about Superbird 4's planned uses and about the HS601 HP satellite from Hughes.

0034 GMT (7:34 p.m. EST)

The status panel in the Jupiter control center is green across the board with no problems to report. Countdown clocks are continuing toward liftoff at 0104 GMT (8:04 p.m. EST), the opening of a 51-minute launch window.

0024 GMT (7:24 p.m. EST)

Minus-40 minutes and counting. The Ariane 44LP rocket is fully fueled and poised for launch tonight from the ELA-2 complex in Kourou, French Guiana along South America's northeast coast.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2000
2145 GMT (4:45 p.m. EST)


Countdown clocks are ticking off the final 3 1/2 hours towards this evening's launch of the Ariane 4 rocket carrying Superbird 4. Officials report activities remain on schedule for liftoff at 8:04 p.m. EST (0104 GMT). Our comprehensive live coverage will begin 40 minutes before launch and continue through spacecraft separation to complete Arianespace Flight 127 about 21 minutes after liftoff.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2000
0501 GMT (0001 EST)


The second Ariane 4 rocket launch of 2000 has been given the green light for liftoff on Wednesday night carrying a Japanese communications satellite.

Arianespace Flight 127 was cleared for launch following the final readiness review on Monday when officials discussed the status of the rocket, Superbird 4 communications satellite payload and ground support systems.

Liftoff from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, South America, is planned for 8:04 p.m. EST Wednesday (0104 GMT Thursday). The available launch window extends 51 minutes to 8:55 p.m. EST (0155 GMT).

With Monday's management review completed, workers began arming the Ariane rocket. This launch will feature an Ariane 44LP vehicle featuring two liquid-fueled boosters and two solid-fueled boosters strapped to the first stage to provide additional thrust at liftoff.

Today will be spent loading storable propellants into the rocket's first and second stages and the two strap-on liquid-fueled boosters.

The final countdown to launch of Arianespace Flight 126 will start at 5:34 a.m. EST on Wednesday (1034 GMT). The 321-foot tall gantry enclosing the rocket at the ELA-2 launch complex will be retracted beginning at 2:09 p.m. EST (1909 GMT). Loading of super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen into the Ariane's third stage will commence at 4:29 p.m. EST (2129 GMT). The launch team will activate the rocket's telemetry, radar transponders and telecommand systems just over an hour before launch at 6:59 p.m. EST (2359 GMT). If there are no problems standing in the way of an on-time liftoff, officials will allow the Synchronized Launch Sequence to begin at Launch Minus-6 minutes. This computer-controlled process performs the final tasks to prepare the rocket for liftoff.

The Superbird 4 spacecraft is designed to bolster telecommunications services in the Asia-Pacific region. The satellite was built for Space Communications Corp. (SCC) of Tokyo by U.S. manufacturer Hughes Space and Communications.

The satellite will be delivered into a highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit by the Ariane 4 rocket. Superbird 4 will then perform orbit raising maneuvers using its onboard kick motor, achieving a circular geostationary orbit around the Earth's equator. Controllers plan to park the satellite at 162 degrees East longitude to join the fleet of three other Superbird spacecraft already operating.

A Hughes HS 601HP model satellite, Superbird 4 carries 23 Ku-band transponders and a steerable Ku-band spot beam for digitial TV transmissions and other telecommunications services.

In addition, the satellite's six Ka-band transponders will allow high-speed data relay capability.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 44LP
Payload: Superbird 4
Launch date: Feb. 18, 2000
Launch window: 0104-0155 (8:04-8:55 p.m. EST on 17th)
Launch site: ELA-2, Kourou, French Guina

Pre-launch Briefing
Ariane 44LP - Overview of the rocket to launch Superbird 4.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of the events to occur during launch.

Purpose of Superbird 4 - Satellite to meet growing communications needs of Asia-Pacific.

The Superbird 4 satellite - Overview of the Hughes-built HS601 HP model spacecraft.

Explore the Net
Arianespace - European launch services provider that uses Ariane 4 and 5 rockets to carry satellites into space.

Space Communications Corp. - Tokyo-based company that will operate Superbird 4 once in space.

Hughes Space and Communications - U.S. manufacturer of Galaxy 10R satellite.

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