UK Satellite set for launch

by Chris Bergin

The UK’s Inmarsat-4 F2 global communications satellite is set for a sea-based launch on a Zenit-3SL rocket on Tuesday at 14:07 UK time.

The launch has been delayed over problems with an automated halt in the launch countdown system, prior to fuelling late last week.

The F2 is the second in a series of three satellites in the Inmarsat-4 series, with the first already in orbit – servicing Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia – following its launch from Cape Canaveral in March on a an Atlas 5. The third will remain on the ground as a spare, ready for launch should one of its two sisters suffer a major problem.

The company responsible for the lift off is Sea Launch, a Californian company that has already successfully completed three missions in 2005. On February 28, they launched the XM-3 satellite, for XM Satellite Radio. April 26 saw DIRECTV’s Spaceway satellite – the heaviest commercial satellite of that date – launch, soon followed by the Intelsat Americas-8 satellite on the 23rd of June.

Sea Launch provide a capability to launch from near Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, close to the equator, using an oil rig-type platform for the rocket, while launch control staff are based on a nearby customised ship.

‘It will be quite spectacular,’ said Inmarsat chief operating officer Michael Butler to the BBC. ‘In the Pacific Ocean, it will be night time. It will be a very impressive fireworks display but hopefully without the explosions.’

The sea launch was originally scheduled for Saturday but was delayed 48 hours to allow controllers to investigate technical issues.

The huge six-ton payload was primarily built at EADS Astrium facilities in Stevenage and Portsmouth – providing super-fast broadband communication for its catchment area for about 15 years.

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