Arianespace successfully launches new era for Intelsat

Posted: June 9, 2001

Ariane 44L rocket lifts off from Guiana Space Center's ELA-2 pad in South America today. Photo: Arianespace TV
A predawn launch of a European Ariane 4 rocket today delivered into space the first in a new series of communications satellites to beef up Intelsat's orbiting fleet with more powerful and higher capacity craft.

The three-stage rocket with four extra liquid-fueled motors strapped to its side labored off the Kourou launch pad at 0645 GMT (2:45 a.m. EDT) carrying the Intelsat 901 spacecraft -- one of the heaviest satellites an Ariane 4 has hauled to orbit.

Liftoff was delayed 24 hours due to unacceptable upper altitude winds. Arianespace said the high winds risked safety because debris and toxics might have been blown outside the cleared impact area if the rocket were to have failed.

But when Arianespace Flight 141 did take to the sky this morning, the rocket worked as advertised and delivered its 4,723 kg satellite cargo into an accurate geosynchronous transfer orbit of 199.7 km by 35,884 km inclined 6.99 degrees to the equator.

"I want to thank Arianespace for making this a boring mission," Conny Kullman, Intelsat's director general and chief executive officer, joked after his satellite was deployed by the Ariane launcher.

It marked the 62nd consecutive successful launch by an Ariane 4 rocket dating back to 1995.

  Intelsat 901
An artist's concept of Intelsat 9-series satellite deployed in orbit. Photo: Intelsat
After a series of orbital maneuvers, Intelsat 901 will be parked in geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the equator at 18 degrees West where it can provide telecommunications services to the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Built by Space Systems/Loral, the craft is the first of seven new satellites of the Intelsat 9-series that will be launched over the next two years, replacing older, less capable spacecraft in the consortium's fleet.

"For us, this satellite represents a new era," said Kullman.

"We will place it in our Atlantic Ocean Region. It is going to serve Europe-to-Africa and the Americas-to-Europe type traffic. It has the power level on the order of two to three times as powerful than the satellite it is replacing at that orbital location, and it has more than 50 percent the capacity of the existing one."

Intelsat 901 should become operational in October, taking over for the Intelsat 705 satellite that will be repositioned to 53 degrees West.

Illustration of Intelsat 901's coverage area. Photo: Intelsat
The new satellite has 42 C-band transponders to serve the entire the Atlantic Ocean Region, as well as 12 Ku-band transponders that will provide spot beam coverage for Europe.

The craft's uses range from relaying television transmissions to providing Internet connection and public switched telephone services.

Formed in 1964, Intelsat now has 20 functioning spacecraft in orbit with the addition of 901.

Intelsat has a total of nine more satellites under construction -- six additional 9-series craft, two 10-series and one all Ku-band satellite for Asia called APR-3. All of the new satellites are slated for launch through 2003, representing a 33 percent increase in capacity, and expanding the consortium's operations to 24 orbital locations.

Intelsat has become Arianespace's No. 1 customer. Intelsat 901 was the 18th Intelsat satellite launched aboard an Ariane rocket since 1983, with five more scheduled.

Eight engines fire to propel the Ariane 44L rocket with Intelsat 901 off the launch pad. Photo: Arianespace TV
"Thank you for your confidence in Arianespace," Jacques Rossignol, Arianespace chief operating officer, told Kullman after Intelsat 901 arrived in orbit.

Following today's launch, there are 12 Ariane 4 rockets left to fly through 2003 before Arianespace shifts its operations entirely to Ariane 5. The next Ariane 4 is planned for August when the Intelsat 902 satellite will be carried aloft.

The next Arianespace launch is scheduled for July 12 when the 10th Ariane 5 rocket is to carry the European Space Agency's Artemis communications technology satellite and the Japanese BSAT-2b direct-to-home TV broadcasting spacecraft.

Arianespace says it hopes to perform three more Ariane 4 launches and four Ariane 5 missions through the end of the year for a total of 11 flights in 2001.

The launch service provider's backlog now stands at 37 satellites, plus 9 cargo deliver flights to the international space station.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 44L
Payload: Intelsat 901
Launch date: June 9, 2001
Launch window: 0645-0745 GMT (0245-0345 EDT)
Launch site: ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana
Satellite broadcast: Telstar 6, Transponder 9, C-band