Ariane 5 rocket flies successful mission for Europe

Posted: August 28, 2002

The Ariane 5 rocket blasts off with Atlantic Bird 1 and MSG 1 from the ELA-3 launch pad. Photos: Arianespace
An Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from the jungles of South America Wednesday night, lofting a communications spacecraft to bridge the Atlantic and an advanced European weather satellite.

Delayed one day by computer problems between the rocket and ground network and then 15 minutes Wednesday by an undisclosed glitch, the Ariane 5's liquid fueled main engine fired to life at 2245:10 GMT (6:45:10 p.m. EDT) as the countdown reached zero. The twin solid rocket motors were ignited seven seconds later, blasting the massive launcher into the night sky from the ELA-3 pad at the Guiana Space Center along South America's northeast coast.

The rocket's solid boosters and two stages performed as expected and the Atlantic Bird 1 and MSG 1 satellites were injected into a highly elliptical geostationary transfer orbit with a perigee, or low point, of 579.3 kilometers, an apogee, or high point, of 35,929 kilometers, and an inclination of 5.49 degrees.

Atlantic Bird 1 was the first to separate, followed a few minutes later by the deployment of the MSG 1 weather satellite.

Eutelsat's 5,940-pound Atlantic Bird 1 spacecraft will slowly propel itself into a circular orbit 22,300 miles high over the next few weeks, where it will begin a testing and checkout period before being declared ready for service in early October. Its operational slot is at 12.5 degrees West above the equator and the Atlantic Ocean.

Officials announced after the launch that the craft, like its sister Atlantic Bird 2, would be dedicated to the memory of Guglielmo Marconi who made the first transatlantic radio transmissions 100 years ago.

It was also announced that Eutelsat will acquire the Stellat 5 communications satellite from the Stellat company formed between France Telecom and Europe*Star. It will be dubbed Atlantic Bird 3 and will be added to the Atlantic Bird fleet next month.

  Atlantic Bird 1
Technicians fuel Atlantic Bird 1 in Kourou. Photo: Arianespace
Atlantic Bird 1 will join Atlantic Bird 2, the soon-to-be Atlantic Bird 3, and other craft used by Eutelsat to link the Americas with Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East. The so-called Atlantic gate program will now use up to three dedicated spacecraft and several others to relay television broadcasts, audio programs, and networking, Internet, and multimedia solutions from continent to continent.

Officially owned by Cofirinvest, Atlantic Bird 1's 24 transponders are leased exclusively to Eutelsat.

"With the strengthening of capacity at the Atlantic gate neighborhood, Eutelsat is delivering on its strategy of international expansion," said Eutelsat CEO Giuliano Berretta. "The launch of Atlantic Bird 1 enables Eutelsat to increase its in-orbit resource across the Atlantic and to further develop market presence in the Americas."

Alenia Spazio built Atlantic Bird 1, which features solar panels that span over 60 feet when deployed. Five kilowatts of power was expected to be produced by the craft's solar cells at the beginning of its 15-year lifetime.

Atlantic Bird 1 was originally slated to fly atop a Chinese Long March rocket, but problems with export licenses forced the change in launchers.

Wednesday's launch marked the second for Eutelsat in one week. The Hot Bird 6 communications satellite was hauled into orbit last Wednesday by an Atlas 5 rocket. Eutelsat plans up to three more launches this year aboard Ariane 5 and Delta 4 rockets.

Flight 155's other payload that rode in the lower compartment of the Sylda dual payload carrier was the MSG 1 weather satellite, the first of the Meteosat Second Generation series for European Meteorological Satellite, or Eumetsat.

MSG 1 represents the start of a new era of European weather observation from space. It adds significantly more capability above previous Eumetsat Meteosat spacecraft, with higher image resolution, faster updates in satellite imagery, search and rescue instruments, a new land studies camera, and a longer lifetime of 7 years.

  MSG 1
The MSG 1 satellite is prepared for launch. Photo: ESA/CNES/Arianespace
Using 12 spectral channels including infrared, MSG 1's weather images will be more accurate and telling than previous spacecraft that only used three channels. Meteorologists will apply the raw data from MSG 1 into forecasts, climate models, precipitation monitoring, and aviation predictions, among other things.

Meteosat Second Generation is a joint project between the European Space Agency and Eumetsat. ESA is responsible for procurement of the MSG 1, MSG 2, and MSG 3 satellites, while Eumetsat will conduct daily operations of the program. Eumetsat also prepared the ground segment and is in charge of launcher acquisition.

"ESA is proud to have deployed this satellite on behalf of Eumetsat and for the benefit of countless users," said Jose Achache, ESA Director of Earth Observation. "It is going to improve weather forecasting, our understanding of climate change, and the issue of the planet's water resources."

Plans call for at least two follow-on satellites, with MSG 2 slated to launch in early 2005 and MSG 3 being placed in storage until it is needed, which likely will be in about 2009.

MSG 1 weighed 4,479 pounds at launch when fully fueled. The Alcatel Space-built craft is shaped like a drum and will spin at 100 rounds per minute for stabilization. Positioned in orbit 22,300 miles above the Gulf of Guinea at 0 degrees longitude, MSG 1 will cover Europe, Africa, and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Next on Arianespace's manifest is Flight 154 when an Ariane 44L rocket will launch the Intelsat 906 satellite on September 6. The next flight of an Ariane 5 is expected some time this fall when a new, more powerful cryogenic upper stage will debut to loft the Eutelsat Hot Bird 7 and French space agency's Stentor satellite.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 5
Payload: Atlantic Bird 1 & MSG 1
Launch date: August 28, 2002
Launch window: 2230-2315 GMT (6:30-7:15 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana, South America
Satellite broadcast: No U.S. feed available

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