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Ariane rocket orbits U.S. communications satellites

October 29, 1998
Web posted at: 10:35 AM EDT

KOUROU, French Guiana (Reuters) -- Western Europe's 113th Ariane rocket lifted two communications satellites into orbit for U.S.-based operators after a successful launch from equatorial French Guiana on Wednesday.

The Ariane 44L rocket equipped with four liquid strap-on boosters -- the most powerful in the Ariane-4 series -- lifted off at 7:16 p.m. local time (2216 GMT) from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch center in Kourou, on the northeast coast of South America.

The rocket lit up a clear equatorial night sky and was visible from the ground for over six minutes.

Twenty minutes after liftoff, space officials said the AfriStar satellite weighing 6,038 pound (2,739 kg) separated from the Ariane rocket.

The satellite will provide direct digital radio broadcasting to Africa for the Washington-based WorldSpace Corp.

Noah Samara, WorldSpace chairman, said the new system will use small satellite radio receivers about the size of current-day transistor radios and deliver digital quality sound.

Two more satellites to service the Asian and American markets are planned for launch next year.

Samara said the entire project of satellites, launches and insurance cost $700 million. He said the project was privately financed, but declined to disclose who the financial backers were.

Prime contractor for the AfriStar satellite was Alcatel Space with Marta Marconi Space, a joint venture of Britain's General Electric and France's Lagardere the major sub-contractor.

Three minutes later a second satellite, the 3,743-pound (1,698-kg) GE-5 television broadcast satellite for New Jersey-based GE American Communications, separated from the Ariane rocket.

"We operate 11 communications spacecraft in the North American arc ... We intend the satellite will by used primarily for television services, much of the service will be for satellite news gathering," GE American vice president Walter Braun said.

He declined to disclose the cost of the satellite and launch. Specialists estimated its value to be in excess of $150 million.

Prime contractor for the satellite was Germany's Daimler Benz.

Wednesday's mission was the ninth Ariane rocket launch this year and the 40th consecutive successful launch of an Ariane-4 rocket.

The Paris-based Arianespace company said it had 37 satellites on order to be launched worth an estimated $3.3 billion.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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