Spaceflight Now:  V128

Ariane 5 doubly successful with two satellites launched

Posted: March 22, 2000

Flares are fired beneath the Vulcain main engine (TOP) to burn away any hydrogen gas before the engine ignites. After the Vulcain started, the solid rocket boosters were lit (MIDDLE). The rocket was launched into cloudy skies, quickly disappearing (BOTTOM). Photos: Arianespace
The Ariane 505 rocket launched into the night on Tuesday, placing a pair of communications satellites in space to serve Asia.

Liftoff occurred at 2328:30 GMT (6:28:30 p.m. EST) from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana along South America's northeast shore.

The flight was delayed 31 minutes because of last-moment troubles with weather, one of the satellite payloads and a suspect reading from a sensor in the liquid oxygen fuel line at the launch pad. Read our Mission Status Center coverage of the countdown and launch.

But after the brief wait, the mighty Ariane 5's liquid-fueled Vulcain main engine came to life, sending a cloud of steam billowing into the jungle sky.

Just over seven seconds later, after computers checked the Vulcain engine's healthy, the twin solid rocket boosters were lit and the fifth Ariane 5 rocket was headed toward space.

Engineers monitoring the rocket's flight reported no problems as the booster followed the correct trek eastward across the Atlantic Ocean. Tracking cameras quickly lost the vehicle as it disappeared into the cloudy sky.

The Ariane 5 completed its powered flight less than 27 minutes after liftoff. Then came the task of releasing its two satellite passengers to freely orbit the Earth on their own.

First to separate was AsiaStar, a radio broadcasting satellite for WorldSpace Corp. of Washington, D.C., about 28 minutes into flight.

The craft will be positioned in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator at 105 degrees East to beam digital radio and multimedia programming directly to users throughout Asia.

"The satellite launched today will fundamentally enable broadcasters of both audio and multimedia to send their signals directly to a very small, handheld terminal, like a radio," said Noah Samara, chief executive officer of WorldSpace.

WorldSpace currently has its AfriStar satellite working in space to provide similar services to the African continent. It plans to launch AmeriStar in the future to cover Central and South America.

"The information, education, entertainment we are assembling in each of our coverage areas is carefully balanced in terms of the bouquet of programming to deliver programs that are both from the region and outside," Samara said.

An artist's concept of AsiaStar in space. Photo: Alcatel
Alcatel Space Industries of Toulouse, France, is the primary satellite contractor for WorldSpace. AsiaStar was built by Matra Marconi Space using its Eurostar 2000+ satellite platform. The spacecraft features 96 L-band transponders and has a 15-year life expectancy.

With its first cargo jettisoned, the Ariane 5's upper rocket stage then prepared itself to deploy Insat 3B -- a telecommunications satellite built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) of Bangalore, India. Separation occurred just over 34 minutes after launch.

"That is the longest 35 minutes I experienced ever in my life," Dr. Kasturirangan, president of ISRO, said jokingly after the launch was declared a success. "It was a beautiful takeoff, a majestic flight and the trajectory virtually hugged the predicted path."

Insat 3B will be operated by ISRO to provide improved communications services throughout India. The craft will be positioned in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator at 83 degrees East along side the older Insat 2E satellite.

"Insat 3B represents a major step of ISRO to bring the benefits of space technology to grass roots-level development," Kasturirangan said. "This satellite is gong to provide enhanced capacity for education, for literacy, for developmental communications, which are all relevant for rural area development."

  Insat 3B
An artist's concept of Insat 3B in space. Photo: ISRO
The satellite carries 12 C-band transponders, three Ku-band transponders, one transponder in S-band for Mobile Satellite Services and a Ku beacon. The satellite has a 10-year expected service life.

Ground controllers established contact with both AsiaStar and Insat 3B soon after their deployments, confirming the satellites were alive. Over the coming days, the satellites will fire onboard engines to raise their current elliptical orbits to geostationary altitude.

Tuesday's flight was the second commercial mission for Europe's Ariane 5 booster, a powerful new rocket designed to lift heavier satellites into space than its predecessor -- the Ariane 4.

The launch also marked the first time Ariane 5 carried two satellite payloads at once, which is a trait needed to make the new rocket commercially viable.

"Flight 128 is the first launch of Ariane 5 that totally demonstrates the configurations which will be used in the future. It is a pleasure for me to give you this success," said Jean-Marie Luton, the chairman and chief executive officer of Arianespace.

The previous commercial launch last December lofted the European Space Agency's massive X-ray Multi Mirror telescope.

The next Arianespace launch is scheduled for April 18 when an Ariane 4 rocket will carry PanAmSat's Galaxy 4R communications satellite into space. The next Ariane 5 flight is slated for May 23 to launch the Astra 2B and GE 7 communications spacecraft.

Following Flight 128, Arianespace's backlog now stands at 39 satellites to be launched. Arianespace has booked a total of 209 launch contracts to date.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 505
Payload: AsiaStar and Insat 3B
Launch date: March 21, 2000
Launch window: 2257-2344 (5:57-6:44 p.m. EST)
Launch site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guina

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

Track - A map shows the typical orbital track an Ariane 5 follows to space.

Sign up for Astronomy Now's NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed directly to your desktop (free of charge).

Your e-mail address: