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Multi-tasking satellite deployed by 50th ILS Proton

Posted: April 3, 2009;
Updated after spacecraft deployment

A Proton rocket blasted off from Kazakhstan Friday and deposited a versatile European communications satellite into orbit, beginning a 15-year mission that will introduce a state-of-the-art service to beam live television to cell phones, iPods and cars across Europe.

Credit: ILS
The 191-foot-tall rocket left the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 1624 GMT (12:24 p.m. EDT), turning northeast from the launch pad and tearing through the night sky on the power of six first stage RD-276 engines.

Eutelsat's 13,000-pound W2A spacecraft was bolted atop the rocket for the nine-hour mission.

The Proton's three core stages thrust W2A on a high-speed suborbital trajectory 10 minutes after liftoff.

The Breeze M upper stage, fueled by an explosive mix of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, took over the flight and ignited for its first burn to place the payload into a low-altitude parking orbit.

Four more firings gradually raised the orbit's altitude and reduced its inclination, finally reaching a targeted orbit with a high point of 22,118 miles and a low point of 3,113 miles. The targeted inclination was 20.7 degrees.

The W2A satellite was deployed at about 0134 GMT Saturday (9:34 p.m. EDT Friday).

International Launch Services officials hailed the launch as a success late Friday, completing the company's 50th Proton launch since beginning services in 1996.

"This 50th ILS launch marked an important milestone for ILS," said Frank McKenna, ILS president. "ILS Proton for W2A met Eutelsat's vital schedule requirements with unique flexibility."

ILS markets the Proton rocket to international customers and manages commercial launches of the venerable booster.

"Proton ranks among the top launchers in the world, and we're pleased to celebrate this momentous occasion with our longtime customer, Eutelsat," McKenna said.

After Friday's launch, the ILS backlog now stands at 22 missions. The next commercial Proton will launch the ProtoStar 2 direct-to-home broadcasting satellite that will cover India and Southeast Asia. That flight is scheduled for the middle of May, according to an ILS spokesperson.

Another ILS Proton rocket will launch the Sirius FM-5 for Sirius XM Radio in June.

ILS signed contracts in February and March to launch the AsiaSat 5 and Intelsat 16 satellites later this year. Both payloads were previously slated to fly on Land Launch Zenit rockets, which have faced schedule delays.

An ILS spokesperson said the company expects six or seven commercial Proton launches this year, in addition to three or four Proton missions for the Russian government.

W2A is the fourth Eutelsat satellite to be launched in less than four months. The company launched Hot Bird 10 in February and the Hot Bird 9 and W2M satellites last December, although W2M suffered a major problem before it became operational, prompting Eutelsat to declare the spacecraft a loss.

The company's W7 satellite is slated to fly to space aboard a Sea Launch Zenit rocket this summer, officials said.

"Eutelsat is always on the launch pad," said Giuliano Berretta, the company's chairman and CEO.

Berretta said W2A is the largest satellite ever launched by Eutelsat, which has provided a growing number of international satellite communications services since the company was established in 1977.

W2A carries Ku-band, C-band and S-band payloads that will reach customers across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of South America and India. The communications instruments will provide a unique blend of services, including video, Internet, mobile telephony and mobile broadcasting.

"It is three satellites in one because there are three missions," Berretta said.

Thales Alenia Space built the spacecraft on its Spacebus 4000 C4 platform.

After using its own propulsion system to further raise its orbit, W2A will be parked in geosynchronous orbit along the equator at 10 degrees east longitude, or about 22,300 miles above the coast of southwestern Africa.

W2A's 46 Ku-band transponders are replacing capacity on Eutelsat's W1 satellite, an aging spacecraft launched in 2000. W2A's 10 C-band transponders will enable new broadband and telecommunications services, especially in Africa, according to Eutelsat.

Six days after launch, the satellite will unfurl an umbrella-like antenna spanning 12 meters, or about 39 feet.

"W2A is indeed a real technology breakthrough," said Reynald Seznec, CEO of Thales Alenia Space. "With a 12-meter S-band antenna, payload power of about 12 kilowatts, and a mass of 6 (metric) tons, it is one of the most powerful European satellites, boosting Eutelsat's Ku-band and C-band capacities."

The antenna will be used by W2A's S-band communications payload, the first such system ever flown on a European satellite.

The S-band system will be operated by Solaris Mobile, an Ireland-based company founded in 2006 as a joint venture between Eutelsat and SES ASTRA, another leading satellite operator in Europe.

The co-founders have invested about 150 million euros, or $200 million, into Solaris so far, according to the company's Web site.

"Today is an exciting day for Europe," said Steve Maine, CEO of Solaris. "After many years of promise, a European satellite is carrying on board a state-of-the-art payload to offer a completely new, powerful and unique network for communications all over Europe."

Solaris will use W2A to route live television, radio and data to receivers built into handheld devices and cars.

"Supported by Solaris Mobile, both existing and a new generation of content providers will be able to offer TV and radio, whether broadcast or downloaded, to mobile phones, PDAs, iPods, portable DVD players, game consoles and other handsets," Maine said.

New entertainment and location-based services will be available to car owners to complement their navigation systems, according to Maine.

Solaris will use a frequency next to the standard cell phone spectrum used across Europe, allowing the service to be integrated into existing networks and infrastructure.

The European Commission is considering applications by Solaris and three other companies to use the S-band frequency.

"We hope very strongly to get a frequency in the (27) states of the European Union, and we think we should be the ones to get it from the European Commission," Berretta said.