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Commercial and military craft share a ride on Ariane 5

Posted: October 1, 2009

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Continuing an enviable string of success, the Ariane 5 team flew its fifth rocket of the year Thursday night topped with a high performance Spanish broadcasting satellite and a secure German military communications craft.

Credit: Arianespace
Liftoff into clear skies occurred precisely on time at 2159 GMT (5:59 p.m. EDT) from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern shore of South America.

The Ariane soared eastward on a powered flight lasting nearly 25 minutes to the targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit.

After the cryogenic engine of the upper stage completed firing, the rocket performed a series of autonomous maneuvers to deploy Amazonas 2, a commercial telecommunications spacecraft to cover the Americas, and COMSATBw 1, an orbiting relay platform for the German Ministry of Defence.

"I think you have seen a perfect launch," Jean-Yves Le Gall, chairman and CEO of Arianespace, told his customers observing the flight in the control center.

The Ariane achieved a highly elliptical orbit stretching 22,345 miles at its farthest point from Earth and 155 miles at the nearest. The satellites will use their onboard engines to circularize the orbit and reach geostationary slots, with Amazonas 2 planning three burns and COMSATBw 1 needing four maneuvers over the next several days.

EADS Astrium built Amazonas 2 spacecraft using the Eurostar E3000 model offering. The 12,000-pound satellite is equipped with 54 Ku-band and 10 C-band transponders for communications services to North, Central and South America.

"Amazonas 2 is the most powerful satellite built by Astrium up to now," said Antonio Abad, the Amazonas 2 spacecraft mission director.

An artist's concept of Amazonas 2. Credit: Astrium
Satellite operator HISPASAT, headquartered in Madrid, will add Amazonas 2 into its fleet of communications spacecraft. The commercial success of the company's Amazonas 1 satellite, deployed in 2004, prompted development of this follow-on powerhouse spacecraft.

Amazonas 2 has 25 percent more transponders, 60 percent more power while only having 20 percent more mass than Amazonas 1, Abad said.

"With Amazonas 2, HISPASAT doubles its capacity over America and consolidates its leadership on this continent," said Petra Mateos-Aparicio, president of HISPASAT.

"It is a technologically advanced, high performance satellite that allows HISPASAT to increase its range of high quality communications services. With its 64 transponders, Amazonas 2 is the largest satellite with pan-American coverage and it positions HISPASAT as the benchmark satellite operator in Spanish and Portuguese speaking markets."

Amazonas 2 will be parked in geostationary orbit at 61 degrees West longitude. It can reach from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

COMSATBw 1 is the first of two such satellites that will be launched in a program for the German Armed Forces' own military communications architecture.

Secure and reliable transmissions via this satellite, plus the sister-craft going up early next year, will enable voice and data relay, video and multimedia broadcasting.

"Troops in the field will have better connection back to home and within the field. Better connection means higher data rates, more services, better services, more robust communication and greater flexibility," said Ludwig Laux, chief technical officer MILSAT Services, the prime contractor the satellite system.

Constructed around Thales Alenia Space's Spacebus 3000B design, the 5,400-pound craft has four super-high-frequency and five ultra-high-frequency transponders. It will be positioned at 63 degrees East longitude.

An artist's concept of COMSATBw 1 and 2. Credit: Astrium
The two-satellite network will cover a zone stretching from the Americas to the Far East, providing an independent communications link between the German government, military leaders and their deployed forces.

Thursday's launch was the 33rd consecutive success for the heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicle, including five missions just this year.

"From the beginning of the year, we have launched seven commercial satellites and two astronomical satellites, Herschel and Planck," Le Gall said.

Arianespace's next Ariane 5 rocket has been stacked atop a mobile launching platform in preparation to receive its dual communications satellite cargo -- the SES World Skies' NSS 12 for coverage across the Eastern Hemisphere and Telenor's Thor 6 to serve the Nordic countries. That launch is targeted for October 29.

What's more, the rocket slated to fly the year's seventh and final flight has arrived at the launch site from Europe to begin assembly for its December blastoff.

"So as you can see, the end of the year is going to be very busy with two other launches...and 2010 will continue at the same pace," said Le Gall.