European Ariane 4 rocket launches DirecTV satellite
Posted: November 26, 2001

This series of images show the launch of the Ariane 44LP rocket with DirecTV-4S. Photo: Arianespace TV
A sophisticated communications spacecraft that will beam hundreds of local television channels to subscribers of the DirecTV satellite system across the U.S. was successfully launched Monday by an Ariane 4 rocket.

Liftoff occurred right on schedule at 7:35 p.m. EST (0035 GMT Tuesday) from the Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America.

The DirecTV-4S satellite was placed into a temporary egg-shaped orbit by the three-stage Ariane 4 following a 21-minute flight. Arianespace said the orbit achieved was accurate with a high point of 35,972 km, low point of 199.8 km and inclination of 7.00 degrees to the equator.

"I feel like we have given birth here today," a jubilant Philip Goswitz, the DirecTV spacecraft mission director, said after the launch.

"I know this spacecraft is very important for your business and we are happy and proud to be able to contribute by this launch towards your success," Arianespace Chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Luton said.

The successful launch was the 65th straight for Ariane 4 dating back to 1995. Overall, Ariane 4 has flown 104 successful missions in 107 tries. There are now just 9 more Ariane 4 rockets remaining to fly before the launcher is retired.

Over the next two weeks, ground controllers will maneuver DirecTV-4S into a circular geostationary orbit by raising the low end of the orbit. The altitude of nearly 36,000 km will allow the craft to match the Earth's rotation and appear parked above one point of the globe. In this case, the satellite is destined for a spot at 101 degrees West longitude over the equator.

By the end of December the DirecTV-4S spacecraft should be ready for business to relay more than 300 local TV channels to 41 markets in the U.S., satisfying the federal "must carry" law that goes into effect on January 1.

DirecTV, the country's leading satellite television service provider with more than 10 million customers, currently offers local programming to those 41 metropolitan areas in the form of ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. The "must carry" law requires WB and UPN affiliates and independent channels in those markets to be provided to subscribers as well, company spokesman Robert Mercer said.

The DirecTV-5 satellite -- slated for launch early next year aboard a Russian-made Proton rocket -- will allow DirecTV to expand its local TV programming into additional markets.

Providing local TV channels is considered crucial for the direct-to-home satellite systems to compete with cable companies. Although the satellite TV providers -- DirecTV and EchoStar's DISH Network -- offer hundreds of channels, the lack of local programming is an obvious drawback for consumers.

Built by Boeing Satellite Systems, the 9,400-pound DirecTV-4S is able to do its relaying job by using spot beams, a technology that reuses the same frequencies on multiple spot beams to reach the various areas across the country.

An artist's concept of DirecTV-4S in orbit. Photo: Boeing
"DirecTV-4S is the fifth Boeing-built spacecraft in the DirecTV fleet and, with its five large reflectors and spot beam payload, it is also the most technologically sophisticated spacecraft we've built to deliver direct-to-home television services," said Boeing Satellite Systems President Randy Brinkley.

"We are proud to provide DirecTV with this satellite, which will help DirecTV to compete more effectively against cable for customers in its local channel markets throughout the United States."

DirecTV-4S is also the world's first commercial satellite to employ high-efficiency solar arrays with triple-junction gallium arsenide solar cells.

For Arianespace, the DirecTV-4S mission set a record for the shortest time from delivery of a satellite payload to the South American launch site until the liftoff.

"(The satellite) was launched only two and a half weeks after its arrival in French Guiana," Luton said. "I want to thank the Ariane teams here in Kourou, whether from Arianespace, CNES or the teams from the industrial community. I know that you spared no effort to provide a preparation campaign that is the very shortest of the Ariane history, and to satisfy (the requirements of) our customer."

The next Arianespace launch is scheduled for January 16 when an Ariane 4 will carry the Insat 3C communications satellite into orbit for the Indian space agency.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 44LP
Payload: DirecTV-4S
Launch date: Nov. 26, 2001
Launch window: 7:35-8:13 p.m. EST (0035-0113 GMT on 27th)
Launch site: ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana
Satellite broadcast: Telstar 4, Transponder 11, C-band