Arianespace launches Galaxy 4R; next flight uncertain
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: April 19, 2000
Arianespace Flight 129 roared into the evening sky in South America right on time at 8:29 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0029 GMT Wednesday), beginning a 21-minute flight across the Atlantic Ocean and into Earth orbit with PanAmSat's Galaxy 4R spacecraft.
Tracking cameras followed the three-stage Ariane 42L rocket during the first 2 1/2 minutes of flight and showed the twin liquid-fueled strap-on boosters separating after they finished firing.
No problems were reported during the launch -- the third Ariane 4 of the year -- and Galaxy 4R was released from the rocket as it flew just west of the Central African coastline.
See the Mission Status Center for our play-by-play description of the countdown and launch.
Hughes Space and Communications, builder of the Galaxy 4R satellite, quickly established contact with the spacecraft at 9:06 p.m. EDT (0106 GMT) via the Daan Magot tracking station in Indonesia. Initial checks of the satellite indicated Galaxy 4R was healthy following its venture into space.
Over the next week, the satellite's liquid-propellant onboard kick motor will be fired to raise its altitude from the highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit achieved by Ariane to the final geostationary orbit.
The Ariane 4 rocket placed Galaxy 4 into an orbit swinging from 125 to 20,115 miles, according to Arianespace data. The final circular orbit will be 22,300 miles above the Equator, parking the craft at 99 degrees West longitude.
A month-long testing period is planned from late-April to late-May, checking the Galaxy 4R's onboard systems before control is handed from Hughes to PanAmSat for commercial service starting in early June.
Galaxy 4R built to serve North America
Customers already signed up to use Galaxy 4R include the Encore movie channel, National Public Radio, NHK, Televisa, PageNet paging service and AT&T's "Headend in the Sky" digital cable service and America Online's AOL Plus via DirecPC.
Galaxy 4R is the third new satellite PanAmSat has launched since December and four more are planned through mid-2001. PanAmSat ordered Galaxy 4R to replace its namesake, which malfunctioned in space in 1998.
Once Galaxy 4R enters service, PanAmSat will move its Galaxy 6, 7 and 11 satellites to different orbital slots, all of which will allow the company to expand its services to North America. PanAmSat will have 21 operational satellites, including 11 serving North America.
A bond between companies
"This has been a wonderful day," said Doug Kahn, president and CEO of PanAmSat. "I want to thank everyone at Arianespace for an outstanding liftoff."
Kahn joked about the clear skies over Kourou during the launch, which was in stark contrast to the record rainfall experienced over the last week.
"I knew we would have a good launch. I didn't know Arianespace could also control the weather. So we are please you made for no rain and a wonderful evening so everyone could see the wonderful launch tonight," Kahn said.
Next Ariane launch date anyone's guess
"It is not possible for us today to set a clear date to resume our flights," Rossignol said. "We don't even know whether we will launch an Ariane 4 or an Ariane 5."
At the center of the trouble is a small German-made thruster that is used on satellites for orienting and station-keeping. Officials say anomalies have been found in a batch of the thrusters that are installed on several spacecraft. Satellite builders, as a result, have delayed delivering the craft until the issue is resolved.
Arianespace has already launched four times this year -- three Ariane 4s and one Ariane 5 rocket. It intends to launch a total of five Ariane 5s and seven or eight Ariane 4s in 2000.
The halt in flights is nothing new to Arianespace, which continues to dominate the lucrative commercial satellite launch market.
"This type of stop in flights has already occurred in the past. It occurred last year and the year before and the interruptions were longer. I think now we are quite used to this. We have hiccups like this but we are very flexible," said Rossignol.
Arianespace was able to complete eight successful launches in a fast-paced period between August and December last year.
"Our operational teams are up to the challenge of reacting quickly when payloads are ready for launch, and they are backed up by European industry which is maintaining the Ariane manufacturing rate," said Jean-Charles Vincent, the director of Arianespace's office at the Kourou spaceport.
Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 42L
Payload: Galaxy 4R
Launch date: April 19, 2000
Launch window: 0029-0139 (8:29-9:39 p.m. EDT on 18th)
Launch site: ELA-2, Kourou, French Guina
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of the events to occur during launch.
Ariane 42L - Overview of the rocket to launch Galaxy 4R.
Purpose of Galaxy 4R - PanAmSat to enhance telecoomunications services to North America.
The Galaxy 4R 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.
PanAmSat - Leading satellite communications provider and operator of Galaxy 4R once in space.
Hughes Space and Communications - U.S. manufacturer of Galaxy 4R satellite.
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MISSION STATUS CENTER