Broadband satellite avoids crash and burn

An Ariane 4 rocket has successfully placed a broadband satellite in orbit for New Skies Satellites, to serve the Asia Pacific region

For 20 anxious minutes New Skies Satellites staff and customers around the world watched as the company launched its sixth satellite into geostationary orbit from the Arianespace launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

Among the more nervous spectators was Arianespace chief executive Jean-Yves Le Gall, who witnessed a similar launch go terribly wrong on 11 December, when an Ariane 5 space rocket brought its payload crashing back to earth just minutes after take off.

However, this mission was completed by a smaller and more stable, Ariane 4 rocket, which took off at 10.04am Sydney time.

Travelling vertically at 45 kilometres per second, and burning fuel at a rate of two tonnes per second in order to break the earth's gravitational pull, the $250m (about £160m) rocket and payload successfully completed the first stage of the launch within 2 minutes 32 seconds. After jettisoning four of the eight Vulcan engines which powered the initial launch, the spacecraft slowed to 5.5 kilometres per second throughout the second stage, and continued to slow through to the third stage of the launch which was ignited roughly 6 minutes into the flight.

Lasting 13 minutes the 3rd stage of the launch saw the rockets switch to cryogenic solid fuel, and successfully deploy the NSS-6 broadband satellite roughly 400 kilometres above the earth's surface.

Twenty minutes into the flight the control room in French Guiana, broke into applause as the satellite was successfully detached from the rocket.

Destined for geostationary orbit at 95 degrees east longitude, the satellite will provide switchable Ku-band beams to provide broadband and broadcast services throughout the Asia Pacific region, and stretching from southern Africa to Australia.

According to Maureen Murphy, chief executive of New Skies Networks, the Australian subsidiary of New Skies Satellites, the new satellite was not yet fully subscribed, with new customers preferring to wait until the launch before signing up for specific services.

With an insured life span of 15 years, New Skies expects to recuperate costs on the NSS-6 launch within five years, and has already foreshadowed the launch of its seventh satellite which will be aimed at improving broadband and broadcast coverage of the Americas.

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