Workhorse Ariane 4 rocket flies its next to last mission

Posted: December 17, 2002

The Ariane 4 rocket ascends from the pad with NSS 6. Photo: Arianespace
Amidst its latest troubles with the Ariane 5 rocket, Arianespace came one step closer to phasing out its Ariane 4 predecessor Tuesday night as the venerable rocket continued its streak of successful launches.

Lighting up the South American jungle for miles around, the Ariane 4 began its penultimate flight right on time at 2304 GMT (6:04 p.m. EST) from the ELA-2 launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana.

Riding the Ariane 44L's three stages into its egg-shaped orbit, the NSS-6 communications satellite was deployed about 21 minutes after leaving the planet, completing the launcher's 73rd consecutive successful mission dating back to 1995.

Arianespace said the orbit achieved had a high point of 35,904 km for a target of 35,955 km, low point of 199.4 km for a target of 199.7 km and inclination right on the mark at 6.99 degrees to the equator.

Over the coming weeks NSS-6 will gradually use its own propulsion system to nudge itself higher and into a circular geostationary orbit where its orbital speed matches that of the Earth's rotation.

Eventually occupying an operational slot at 95 degrees East above the Indian Ocean, the Lockheed Martin-built craft will join the New Skies Satellites fleet for a 14-year mission to help the Intelsat spin-off reach Asian markets.

"The successful launch of NSS-6 represents the realization of another important milestone in New Skies strategic plan as well as the company's steadfast commitment to Asia," said Dan Goldberg, New Skies' chief executive officer. "NSS-6 is the most state-of-the-art satellite to serve the region, which represents 50 percent of the world's landmass and more than 60 percent of the world's population, and will contribute to New Skies' significant anticipated growth in 2003 and beyond."

  NSS 6
The NSS 6 spacecraft. Photo: Lockheed Martin
With its powerful communications payload reaching from the Middle East to far eastern Asia, NSS-6 will provide a number of services to users ranging from large corporations to home customers.

NSS-6 will use 50 Ku-band transponders that can be linked to any of six wide beams, each covering India, China, the Middle East, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia. New Skies will also have the option of assigning certain numbers transponders to a beam depending on the market demand.

New Skies also has placed 10 Ka-band uplink beams on NSS-6, which officials say are unique in the Asian region. The Ka-band payload focuses on uplink communications from individual cities chosen in the region for their strategic value.

With Ka-band and Ku-band capabilities on one satellite, New Skies officials say they can handle two-way interactive services including Internet applications that can use both communications bands.

"The NSS-6 design incorporates proven technologies and features a high degree of connectivity and flexible capacity allocation among the coverage beams, allowing us to match supply where we see the most demand. With the combined high-power coverage of NSS-6 and NSS-5, we now have the competitive capacity to fulfill the dynamic requirements of our customers and aggressively pursue emerging opportunities throughout Asia," Goldberg said.

In addition to Internet and multimedia networking services, NSS-6 will also provide direct-to-home programming and a broadcasting source for large media outlets.

The 10,065-pound NSS-6 is the second spacecraft the satellite communications firm has launched since it was formed in 1998, when it acquired its initial constellation from Intelsat. New Skies used an Ariane 4 rocket to launch NSS-7 in April, and NSS-8 is due for launch in 2003.

An artist's concept of NSS 6 deployed in orbit. Photo: Lockheed Martin
New Skies is adding satellites to double its communications infrastructure and capacity to expand its capability to serve new industry needs.

The mission marked the 157th in the 23-year history of the Ariane program and the 115th for the Ariane 4 rocket. It was also the 39th flight of the Ariane 44L version, the most capable of the Ariane 4 family with four liquid-fueled boosters.

Tuesday night's launch was the last of 2002 for Arianespace. There were 12 launches from the South American spaceport this year, with eight Ariane 4's and four flights of the Ariane 5 rocket. The single failure of the year was last week's Ariane 5 mishap.

Just one more Ariane 4 booster is on the books for Arianespace, with launch likely scheduled for early 2003 with the Intelsat 907 communications craft. After that mission, the Ariane 5 will be the only launcher in the Arianespace inventory.

The next Ariane 5 launch is slated for January 12 with the high profile Rosetta comet probe aboard. But to make that day, the investigators probing the December 11 failure of the first upgraded Ariane 5 must exonerate the older version of the rocket that Rosetta will fly on.

The commission's report is due on January 6.

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