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The Mission

Rocket: Ariane 5 ECA
Payload: WildBlue 1 & AMC 18
Date: Dec. 8, 2006
Window: 2208-2251 GMT (5:08-5:51 p.m. EST)
Site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana

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All-American satellite payload lofted by Ariane 5

Posted: December 8, 2006

Two communications satellites destined to serve millions of Americans were delivered to space Friday evening to begin their television and Internet broadcasting missions.

The Ariane 5 rocket rises for its nighttime ascent. Credit: Arianespace TV
Liftoff of the Ariane 5 ECA rocket occurred on-time at 2208 GMT (5:08 p.m. EST) from the ELA-3 launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana.

The 166-foot tall rocket flew east from South America's northeast coast, dropping its two solid rocket boosters and first stage in the Atlantic Ocean before finally releasing the WildBlue 1 and AMC 18 satellites about a half-hour into the flight.

The Ariane 5 placed the satellites in the planned elliptical geostationary transfer orbit stretching from a low point of around 155 miles to a high point of more than 22,300 miles. The targeted inclination was approximately 2 degrees.

Both payloads will be maneuvered into a circular geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the Equator in the coming weeks. WildBlue 1 will be positioned at 111 degrees West longitude above the Pacific Ocean, while AMC 18 will operate from 105 degrees West longitude.

WildBlue 1 is beginning a 15-year mission to provide broadband Internet services to more customers across the United States. The 10,439-pound satellite will triple the broadband capacity offered by Colorado-based WildBlue Communications, Inc.

"We've taken a major step in the WildBlue history toward increasing our subscriber capacity [by] greater than 500,000 customers [that] we can add onto our network with this satellite," said Jim Elliot, vice president of infrastructure for WildBlue.

Built by Space Systems/Loral, the satellite features a Ka-band communications payload utilizing 35 geographical spot beams focused on regions throughout the contiguous United States. The system will provide wireless high speed Internet to rural homes and offices that are often far removed from terrestrial networks.

"That will help us satisfy the tremendous demand that we're having for our service, and that is to bring high-speed Internet access all over the United States of America," Elliot said in a post-launch speech.

WildBlue has been using Ka-band systems aboard the Canadian Anik F2 satellite, and company officials say they will continue leasing capacity from the spacecraft in the future.

WildBlue's Internet service is about 30 times faster than typical dial-up connections, according to the company's Web site.

SES AMERICOM's AMC 18 broadcasting satellite was also put into orbit Friday. The craft carries 24 C-band transponders that will reach users across the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean during the next 15 years. The 4,588-pound satellite was manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Programming offered through AMC 18 will include a variety of cable television networks, including high definition channels. AMC 18 joins 18 other active spacecraft in SES AMERICOM's fleet.

"The mission is really to support the cable companies for cable programming and the high demand for high definition TV," said Dennis Huyler, spacecraft mission director for SES AMERICOM.

Friday's launch was the 5th and final flight for Ariane rocket family this year. Each of the company's missions in 2006 used the Ariane 5 ECA vehicle and carried multiple payloads.