Spaceflight Now: Mission Report

Arianespace launches first Ariane 5 rocket of 2001

Posted: March 8, 2001

Ariane 509 rocket lifts off. Photo: Arianespace TV
Two new digital stars are in the sky today following the successful launch Thursday of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket that delivered European and Japanese telecommunications satellites into Earth orbit.

The Ariane 509 rocket blasted off right on schedule at 2251 GMT (5:51 p.m. EST) from the ELA-3 launch complex at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

Following a precise corridor to hit the desired geosynchronous orbit, the two-stage Ariane 5 fitted with a pair of solid rocket boosters completed its near 27-minute powered flight to inject the Eurobird and BSAT-2a satellite cargos into space.

Officials reported the orbit achieved was 863 km at perigee and 36,032 km at apogee with an inclination of 2.02 degrees, which virtually matched pre-flight predictions. The satellites will fire onboard kick engines later to achieve geostationary orbit above the equator.

"The beauty of a launch is always just as fascinating and it always has some magic," said Jean-Marie Luton, Arianespace chairman and CEO. "However, as everyone knows that such a victory is nothing supernatural at all. It is fruit of excellent, high quality teamwork."

The successful launch continued the string Ariane 5 has accumulated since its commercial era began in 1999 with the tally now standing at six.

Eurobird udergoing final preparations at the launch site. Photo: Arianespace TV
The first payload deployed was Eurobird, a craft built by Alcatel Space in France for the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization, or Eutelsat.

Destined for an orbital parking slot at 28.5 degrees East longitude above Central Africa, Eurobird will provide Eutelsat with the means to enter the lucrative digital TV broadcasting market for the British Isles. In doing so, Eutelsat will be able to compete with the Astra satellite system operated by Luxembourg-based SES.

"This spacecraft, Eurobird, is particularly important to us," Giuliano Berretta, Eutelsat's director general said. "We are stepping into the British market. It was difficult. It was the monopoly of our previous competitor."

Featuring 24 Ku-band transponders, the satellite is designed to provide the bandwidth and high power necessary for digital entertainment programming and business networks.

Users of Eurobird will include TV broadcast systems BSkyB and UPC for services across the U.K. and Ireland. In Germany, the satellite will serve the needs of broadband Internet connection, file transfer, videoconferencing and cable TV distribution.

Eurobird joins Eutelsat's existing constellation of 18 satellites.

With Eurobird deployed, the Ariane 5 rocket shed its barrel-like payload adapter structure, unveiling the BSAT-2a satellite. Just under 37 minutes into the launch, the Japanese cargo was released from the upper stage.

BSAT-2a is the first of two direct-to-home TV broadcasting spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences in the U.S. for Japan's Broadcasting Satellite System Corp.

An artist's concept of BSAT-2a. Photo: Orbital
Set for positioning at 110 degrees East longitude above the Island of Borneo, the craft will beam digital high-definition TV across Japan. The number of potential customers of the service could reach 10 million within three years, said Takehiro Izumi, the president of BSAT.

Thursday's flight was the first Ariane 5 mission of 2001 with four more planned. There have already been two Ariane 4 launches this year with three additional flights scheduled.

Arianespace's next launch is scheduled for early June when an Ariane 44L rocket is to loft the Intelsat 901 telecommunications satellite.

Following Flight 140, Arianespace's backlog now stands at 36 satellites to be launched, plus 9 cargo freighter missions for the international space station.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 509
Payload: Eurobird & BSAT-2a
Launch date: March 8, 2001
Launch window: 2251-2347 GMT (5:51-6:47 p.m. EST)
Launch site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana