American TV watchers to reap benefits of Atlas launch
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: February 5, 2004
Starting this spring when U.S. cable television viewers flip on the Discovery Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon or Showtime, they will be watching the channels via a broadcasting satellite successfully launched into space Thursday from Cape Canaveral.
Delayed 50 minutes by a balky helium valve, engineers overcame the glitch to reschedule the liftoff with 20 minutes to spare in the day's available launch window.
The Atlas launcher delivered its payload into the proper orbit, increasing the rocket's remarkable string of consecutive successful flights to 69 dating back a decade.
"We are delighted to have had an enormously successful launch of AMC-10," said Mark Albrecht, president of International Launch Services, which manages Atlas missions. "Sixty-nine out of 69 launches since 1993 of all Atlas configurations -- a record that is absolutely unmatched in the launch business. The Atlas team is the gold standard of commercial space launch."
"This evening's launch was picture-perfect," said Dean Olmstead, president and CEO of SES AMERICOM, operator of AMC-10.
A series of orbit-raising burns will be conducted by AMC-10 in the coming days as it travels from the highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit achieved during launch -- 22,336 by 116 miles inclined 12.4 degrees -- into a circular geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the equator. The craft is expected to reach its intended perch and deploy the power-generating solar arrays and antennas by late next week before entering a testing period.
SES AMERICOM hopes to have the satellite in full service by early May, replacing the aging Satcom C-4 satellite at the 135-degree West longitude orbital slot. From that vantage point, dozens of television networks will be transmitted to AMC-10 for relay to cable companies across America. Those companies in turn pipe the programming to subscribers in over 80 million U.S. homes.
Networks that will use AMC-10 include Animal Planet, Bravo, CNBC, C-SPAN, numerous Discovery channels, E!, Flix, Food Network, History Channel, Home & Garden Television, Home Shopping Network, iN DEMAND, MTV, Nickelodeon, QVC, Showtime, The Learning Channel, Travel Channel, TV Land, VH-1 and The Weather Channel.
AMC-10 will be joined in orbit by its twin, AMC-11, when it's launched May 19 aboard another Atlas 2AS rocket.
"Since the AMC-10 and AMC-11 satellites are two of a kind, we fully expect to be repeating another successful mission right here at the Cape in a few months' time," Albrecht said.
AMC-11 will replace the Satcom C-3 spacecraft at the 131-degree West orbital location to relay even more networks to cable watchers.
"If you watch TV, more than half of the content that you see...has gone over AMERICOM satellites," Olmstead told reporters at a morning news conference. "We are the service behind the delivery of the premium channels in the U.S., and that historically has been provided on our satellites that are now reaching the end of their lives and being replaced by these new-technology satellites, AMC-10 and 11."
High-definition users of AMC-10 include Discovery HD Theater, Showtime, NBC and PBS. Additional HD users could be in the offing.
"We will have a couple of transponders left over," Olmstead said. "We've saved those to accommodate the launch of some new HD content. So stay posted. I think we are going to see a lot of interesting announcements relative to new HD programming. The time for high-definition has come, and we're here to provide the best service to the cable industry."
Future plans for the Satcoms have not been finalized. Both were launched in the summer of 1992.
"Those satellites both have lifetime left in them," Olmstead said, noting they are being replaced early to ensure continuity of service to the cable companies.
"As we get closer to making the decisions -- i.e. once we have had the successful launches, we've gone through on-orbit testing and decided to bring the new satellites into service -- we will then make decisions on the redeployment. We've not done that yet.
"There are a number of alternatives under consideration. I can tell you that it falls into two categories. One is we may leave one spacecraft in the neighborhood for a time being to make sure everything is fine and stable, and we may move one of the spacecraft into a new orbit slot to begin to create some new commercial opportunities."
The Japanese Superbird 6 communications spacecraft will ride another Atlas 2AS rocket in mid-April, followed a month later by the AMC-11 launch.
"We have a very, very busy manifest this year," Albrecht said.
ILS is a joint U.S./Russian venture that markets both Atlas and Proton rockets. Each rocket family is expecting to make five or more flights in 2004.