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Commercial Zenit rocket launches with new Telstar

Posted: February 26, 2009;
Updated after spacecraft sep.

A Zenit rocket blasted off from Kazakhstan Thursday and deployed a Canadian communications satellite designed to bridge three continents with Internet and video services.

The Zenit 3SLB booster launched at 1830 GMT (1:30 p.m. EST) Thursday from pad 45 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, beginning the second mission of a Sea Launch spinoff program aimed serving the market for medium-class communications satellites.

Propelled by a four-nozzle RD-171 engine, the 192-foot-tall launcher darted into the night sky and flew to an altitude of 52 miles before jettisoning the first stage about two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.

The Zenit's second stage ignited for a six-minute firing, during which the rocket shed its nose cone after it transited the dense lower layers of the atmosphere.

The Block DM-SLB upper stage continued the push toward orbit moments after separating from the second stage. The kerosene-fueled stage first placed the rocket and the Telstar 11N satellite into a temporary low-altitude parking orbit, then gradually raised the craft's altitude and lowered its inclination.

The upper stage released the 8,840-pound satellite a few seconds before 0026 GMT Friday (7:26 p.m. EST Thursday), completing the Land Launch consortium's second mission since beginning services in April 2008.

A ground station in Australia acquired radio signals from Telstar 11N a few minutes later, confirming the craft survived the trip to space.

Thursday's flight was the first Land Launch mission under the auspices of Sea Launch. Last year's debut launch was managed by Space International Services Ltd., Sea Launch's Moscow-based partner in charge of mission integration.

The maiden flight was hampered by an undisclosed technical issue that caused the mission's Israeli satellite payload to be deployed in an orbit just shy of prelaunch predictions.

No such problems appeared to occur Thursday, and Sea Launch officials declared the flight a total success shortly after spacecraft separation.

"This significant accomplishment represents the work of Space International Services, based in Moscow, and its collaboration with the Sea Launch partnership," said Kjell Karlsen, president and general manager of Sea Launch. "Our Land Launch service responds to our customers' requirements for reliable, single-payload capabilities in the medium-weight commercial satellite market."

The Zenit was shooting for a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a high point of 22,236 miles, a low point of 954 miles and an inclination of 34.6 degrees.

Telstar 11N will use its own propulsion system to reach a circular geosynchronous orbit with an altitude of about 22,300 miles. The satellite will be stationed over the equator at 37.5 degrees west longitude, or just off the northeast coast of South America.

The satellite carries 39 Ku-band transponders able to reach customers in North America, Western Europe and Africa. Telstar 11N also includes an Atlantic Ocean beam to provide mobile broadband services to ships and airplanes on transoceanic routes.

Space Systems/Loral built the spacecraft for Ottawa-based Telesat, a partially-owned subsidiary of Loral Space and Communications Inc. Telesat is a leading operator of 13 satellites covering six continents. Telstar 11N is based on the Loral 1300 series of communications satellites.

Telstar 11N is designed to operate for at least 15 years.

"We thank Sea Launch and Space International Services, their Land Launch partner, for their dedication in providing a successful mission and we also thank Space Systems/Loral," said Dan Goldberg, Telesat president and CEO.

"This is Telesat's first time using the Zenit 3SLB vehicle at the Baikonur space center and we are obviously very pleased with the outcome today," Goldberg said.

Two more Land Launch missions are on tap for the rest of the year. Sea Launch also plans three flights from the company's oceangoing Odyssey launch platform.

The Telstar 11N mission leapfrogged another Land Launch flight with the Malaysian MEASAT 3a communications satellite. MEASAT 3a was damaged during a crane mishap at Baikonur last August, and officials decided to ship the satellite back to its builder in the United States for repair work.

The next Sea Launch flight is slated to loft the Sicral 1B military communications satellite for Italy. That launch was delayed from this month due to unspecified technical concerns with spacecraft.