Spaceflight Now:  V127

Ariane 4 rocket launches Japan's Superbird 4

Posted: Feb. 18, 2000

The liquid-fueled first stage engines and two strap-on boosters roar to life moments before liftoff of the Ariane 44LP rocket. Photo: Arianespace
An Arianespace Ariane 4 rocket successfully launched the Japanese Superbird 4 communications satellite Thursday evening after a one-day postponement due to weather.

The three-stage vehicle, sporting pairs of liquid and solid propellant strap-on boosters, lifted off at 8:04 p.m. EST (0104 GMT Friday) from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana along South America's northeast coast.

"It is a marvelous sight," an Arianespace commentator said as the rocket screamed into the nighttime sky. "One of the great symbols of man's technological achievement -- a launcher blasting off into space."

This 95th Ariane 4 launch and the second of 2000 lasted just over 21 minutes. After a thunderous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the rocket's third stage released Superbird 4 into the planned orbit around Earth before reaching the African coastline.

"It looks very simple when it is a success," Jacques Rossignol, chief operating officer of Arianespace, said after the launch. "It is like being on TV or watching a movie, but I can tell you what is impressive is the people behind the screen."

The successful mission marked the 53rd straight for the Ariane 4 rocket, which continues to dominate the commercial satellite launch market.

"I would like to congratulate all of our team from CNES, from Arianespace for the fantastic job they have been doing, not only in the 24 last hours (after weather delay), but in the two or three weeks they have been in campaign for the launch," Rossignol said.

See our Mission Status Center for a chronicle of the launch.

Ground controllers established contact with Superbird 4 for the first time through a tracking station in Sydney, Australia, about 56 minutes after liftoff.

The Ariane 4 rocket rumbles to life at Kourou. Photo: Arianespace

The Ariane 4 rocket delivered the satellite into an elliptical orbit with a high point of 22,369 miles and low point of 124 miles. Over the next few weeks, controllers will guide the Hughes Space and Communications-built satellite through firings of its liquid-propellant apogee motor to raise and circularize the orbit to geostationary altitude of 22,300 miles.

Controllers will park the craft over the equatorial Pacific at 162 degrees East.

In addition to the orbital maneuvers, 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) in about a month, said Fran Slimmer, spokeswoman for the California-based satellite builder.

Commercial service for the satellite should start in early April, allowing SCC to expand its communications relay capability throughout Japan and surrounding area.

SCC, a company headquartered in Tokyo with a fleet of orbiting satellites, will use this new spacecraft to replace its aging Superbird B1 launched aboard an Ariane eight years ago this month. It is expected that Superbird 4 will be renamed Superbird B2.

  Superbird 4
An artist's concept of the Superbird 4 communications satellite in space. Photo: Hughes

The Hughes HS 601HP model satellite carries 23 Ku-band transponders and a steerable Ku-band spot beam for digital TV transmissions and other telecommunications services.

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

Superbird 4 is the 184th Hughes-built spacecraft to be launched and the 53rd HS 601 model satellite. The new satellite also becomes the 14th high-power version HS 601 flown.

Preparations are well underway in Kourou for the next Arianespace launch, now scheduled to occur around March 16. The second commercial flight of the powerful Ariane 5 rocket, known as Ariane 505, will carry into orbit the Indian Space Research Organization's Insat 3B spacecraft and WorldSpace's AsiaStar radio broadcasting satellite.

Upon completion of Flight 127, Arianespace has a backlog of 39 satellites to be launched.

About a dozen more Ariane launches are possible this year, including the planned deployment this fall of Superbird 5 for SCC.

Mission Status Center
Read reports on countdown and launch of Arianespace Flight 127 in Spaceflight Now Mission Status Center.

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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