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China, Nigeria team up for broadcasting satellite launch

Posted: December 19, 2011

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A Long March rocket launched Monday with a powerful Chinese-built, Nigerian-owned communications satellite to serve Africans with television, education, navigation and security services.

Liftoff occurred at 12:41 a.m. Beijing time.
Nigeria ordered the mission from China in 2009, purchasing a multi-use satellite built by the China Academy of Space Technology and arranging a Long March rocket launch from China Great Wall Industry Corp., the commercial sales firm for Chinese launchers.

The satellite-builder and launch provider are both controlled by the Chinese government. The spacecraft will be operated by Nigcomsat Ltd., a communications firm owned by the Nigerian government.

The 11,200-pound satellite, named Nigcomsat 1R, blasted off on a Long March 3B rocket at 1641 GMT (11:41 a.m. EST) Monday from the Xichang space center, a military-run base in Sichuan province of southwest China.

Launch was at 12:41 a.m. Beijing time, and the 18-story launcher flew into mostly clear skies before its fiery exhaust plume faded from view in a video from the launch site.

The Long March 3B rocket, featuring enhancements to haul more cargo into space, released the Nigcomsat 1R payload in orbit about 26 minutes after liftoff. The launcher was targeting an orbit with a low point of 124 miles, a high point of 26,092 miles and an inclination of 24.8 degrees, according to China Great Wall Industry Corp.

Chinese state media said the launch was successful.

Monday's launch tied the United States for the number of space launches in 2011. It also extended the record for Chinese space missions in a single year.

Both countries have launched 18 rockets with satellites or space probes this year. Each nation has suffered one launch failure.

The launch of Nigcomsat 1R marked the 17th successful satellite launch of the year for China, further eclipsing the country's previous record of 15 missions in a year.

Artist's concept of the Nigcomsat 1R satellite. Credit: CGWIC
Nigcomsat 1R is based on China's DFH-4 spacecraft platform. China has reached agreements to build DFH-4 communications satellites for several non-traditional players in the space industry, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Venezuela, Laos and Bolivia.

Nigeria ordered the replacement satellite from China in 2009 at "no extra cost to the Nigerian customer" after the failure of the first Nigcomsat spacecraft, according to China Great Wall Industry Corp.

Nigcomsat 1R's communications package includes 28 active transponders and seven antennas reaching across sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Central Asia.

The transponders will broadcast in C-band, Ku-band, Ka-band and L-band, according to Nigcomsat. The satellite will be positioned in geosynchronous orbit at 42.5 degrees east longitude.

China added several upgrades to Nigcomsat 1R to improve its performance over the preceding Nigcomsat 1 satellite. A Ku-band spot beam on Nigcomsat 1R will provide communications links between Nigeria and China, according to Nigcomsat's website.

Nigcomsat 1R could stimulate economic growth in Africa, helping create jobs and saving customers expensive charges for telephone calls and broadband Internet access.

The satellite's C-band payload will reach across Africa, while its Ku-band transponders will be aimed at regions of southwestern Africa and China. The Ka-band system will be wired into spot beams focused on Europe, Nigeria and South Africa, according to Nigcomsat.

Nigcomsat 1R will transmit two L-band navigation channels make for more accurate satellite positioning services in Africa.