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Space

Ariane rocket blasts into space, launches two satellites

February 27, 1999
Web posted at: 5:50 a.m. EDT (0550 GMT)

KOUROU, French Guiana (CNN) -- Two communications satellites began their first full day in orbit Saturday after they were launched Friday by Western Europe's 116th Ariane rocket in space.

The Ariane 44L rocket equipped with four strap-on boosters -- the most powerful in the Ariane-4 series -- blasted off at 7.44 p.m. local time (5:44 p.m. EST, 2244 GMT) from the European Space Agency launch center in French Guiana on the northeast coast of South America.

Friday's launch was the first of 13 scheduled Ariane missions for 1999 and the 43rd consecutive successful launch of an Ariane-4 rocket.

Initially targeted for launch on February 3, Ariane's first mission this year was postponed after technical problems aboard the rocket were detected during prelaunch tests in late January.

Twenty minutes after Friday's launch, officials said the Arabsat 3A satellite separated from the rocket.

Satellites to boost military and TV broadcasts

Arabsat will provide direct-to-home (DTH) television broadcasting, telephone and data services throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe for the 22- member nation Arabsat organization.

"The main objective of Arabsat is to provide communications infrastructure in (the) Arab world by providing state-of-the- art telecommunications services both in quality and quantity," Saad Al Bidnah, Arabsat director general told a prelaunch news conference.

Al Bidnah said the cost of the satellite, launch and insurance was about $200 million.

Prime contractor for the 6,000-pound (2.7 ton) satellite was France's Alcatel Space, a joint venture between Alcatel and Thomson-CSF.

Skynet 4E, which will be used for worldwide strategic and tactical communications for Britain's armed forces, also separated from the rocket.

"The U.K. Ministry of Defense has recently completed the most thorough defense review of recent times," Keith Smith, director of Strategic Communications and Surveillance Systems for the Ministry said.

"This policy review, known as the Strategic Defense Review, placed considerable emphasis on the need to communicate to maintain modern forces for a modern world," Smith said.

Weighing 3,300 pounds (1.5 tons), Skynet was built in Britain by Matra Marconi Space (MMS), a joint venture of Britain's General Electric Co. and France's Lagardere Groupe.

Paris-based Arianespace, which launches and markets the Ariane rocket series, said it had 38 heavy satellites on order to be launched worth an estimated $3.5 billion.

The company's launch operations have been hampered in recent years more by the inability of satellite manufacturers to deliver their spacecraft on time than by problems linked to the rocket itself.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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