Thursday, February 06, 2014

Europe's mighty Ariane rocket launches two satellites

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A European Ariane 5 thundered off it's seaside launch pad at the edge of the Amazon jungle on Thursday to deliver a direct-to-home broadcast satellite and a defense spacecraft to orbit.

The launcher soared into the rainy skies of Kourou, French Guiana following a one hour delay due to thunderstorms in the area.

Ariane's two satellites, one designed for Italy and France's homeland security and one which will expand the use of high definition broadcasts to homes across most of the eastern hemisphere, successfully separated from it's launcher thirty minutes after launch.

The Asia Broadcast Satellite or ABS-2, which rode to orbit at the top of the two satellite stack, separated first from the launcher to begin a planned 15 year life providing video and telecommunication for Asia, North Africa and Middle East.

Built by Space Systems Loral, ABS-2 will operate in geostationary orbit using a combined 89 Ka-Band, Ku-Band and C-Band transponders.

“ABS-2 is a very advanced satellite that has the capability to improve the human experience by providing services for 60 percent of the world’s population,” John Celli, president of SS/L stated recently.

Minutes later, the Athena-Fidus advanced relay platform was released, and over the next week will be positioned into a fixed geostationary orbit. Athena-Fidus will provide global coverage as a communications relay between the Homeland Securities of both Italy and France and their armed forces.

The development of the Access on THeaters for European allied forces NAtions -- French Italian Dual Use Satellite, or Athena-Fidus, is sponsored by both the French and Italian space agencies.

Rain showers, which fell upon the launch site in the hours leading up to lift-off, did not delay the rocket's super cold fuel loading as the launch team remained in a go condition.

The countdown reached zero at the start of a two hour launch window as the Ariane's core engine ignited followed seconds later by it's twin solid rocket boosters at 4:30:07 p.m. EST, pushing 10,200 kg of payload toward orbit.

Half a minute later, the massive rocket disappeared into a low cloud layer.

The 166-foot-tall Ariane arced out over the mid Atlantic Ocean and into sunset as it's rate of speed and altitude increased above the light rain and clouds.

Just over two minutes into the 72nd Ariane 5 mission, the twin solid rocket boosters separated on time as the main center engine continued to burn.

The launch contrail was captured in dramatic fashion by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, one of six crew members, working and living 260 miles above earth aboard the International Space Station.
Mastracchio had posted unique launch image on his Twitter feed even before the two satellites were released.

Ariane's upper stage engine then burned for several minutes pushing the two spacecraft into a higher orbit. ABS-2 was then released at 4:57 p.m. followed by Athena-Fidus five minutes later.

The next Ariane 5 launch, the second of fourteen planned in 2014, is currently planned for March 7 on a mission to deploy two communications satellites.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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