Chinese rocket launches with first Algerian communications satellite

A Long March 3B rocket lifted off Sunday with the Alcomsat 1 communications satellite for Algeria. Credit: Xinhua

A Chinese-built telecom satellite for Algeria successfully launched Sunday aboard a Long March 3B rocket, heading toward a perch more than 22,000 miles over the equator to provide television broadcasts, broadband Internet, remote education and emergency communications services.

The Alcomsat 1 spacecraft rode a Chinese Long March 3B rocket into orbit from the Xichang space center in Sichuan province, a mountainous launch base in the southwestern part of the country.

The 184-foot-tall (56-meter) Long March 3B launcher lifted off at 1640 GMT (11:40 a.m. EST) Sunday from Xichang and headed southeast, dropping its four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters around 2 minutes, 20 seconds, into the mission.

The rocket took off at 12:40 a.m. Monday Beijing time.

The Long March 3B’s first stage shut down and separated moments later, and liquid-fueled second and third stage engines continued pushing the rocket toward orbit.

Separation of the 11,519-pound (5,225-kilogram) Alcomsat 1 spacecraft occurred approximately 26 minutes after liftoff.

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology and China Great Wall Industry Corp., the state-owned firm which markets Chinese rockets and satellites to international customers, announced the mission was a success.

The Algeria Press Service, owned by the Algerian government, also reported the launch was successful, claiming the Alcomsat 1 spacecraft was injected into an elliptical “supersynchronous” transfer orbit arcing as high as 26,100 miles (42,000 kilometers) above Earth, circling the planet on a track tilted 26.4 degrees.

China Great Wall Industry Corp. confirmed the same orbital parameters in a statement.

Alcomsat 1’s on-board engine will circularize its orbit over the equator in the next two weeks, settling the satellite in geostationary orbit over the equator at 24.8 degrees west longitude. In that orbit, the spacecraft’s velocity will match the rate of Earth’s rotation, allowing Alcomsat 1 to hover in the same position in the sky for fixed ground-based antennas.

Members of Alcomsat 1’s team from China and Algeria pose with the spacecraft before launch. Credit: Algeria Press Service

China Great Wall Industry Corp. said the Alcomsat 1 spacecraft is based on the DFH-4 satellite design manufactured by the China Academy of Space Technology. Built for a 15-year service life, Alcomsat 1 carries 33 operational transponders — 19 in Ku-band, 12 in Ka-band and two in L-band, CGWIC said in a statement.

“The Alcomsat 1 satellite program is the first communications satellite program of Algeria, and also (marks) the bilateral cooperation between Algeria and China in space technology for the first time,” CGWIC said.

“Algeria and China are strategic partners with comprehensive cooperation,” the statement said. “The successful launch of Alcomsat 1 is the good beginning of space cooperation between (the) two countries. More cooperation (and) more space programs are expected to be initiated soon.”

China Great Wall Industry Corp. and the Algeria Space Agency signed the Alcomsat 1 contract in December 2013. Chinese engineers were responsible for building, launching and testing Alcomsat 1 once in orbit, and Algerian authorities will take command of the satellite when it is ready to begin communications services.

Alcomsat 1 is designed for television broadcast, broadband Internet, remote education, emergency communication, e-government and enterprise communication services, officials said.

China has launched similar communications satellites under contracts with the governments of Nigeria, Venezuela, Pakistan, Bolivia, Belarus and Laos. Future Chinese-built geostationary telecom craft are under construction for Nicaragua and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for launches as soon as next year.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.