Sat-ND, 23.7.96

Sat-ND 96-07-23 - Satellite and Media News

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This issue is sponsored by TELE-satellite, Europe's Satellite Magazine 
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*** Sat-ND summer break: August 1 to August 15 ***

Ariane 5: The right software for the wrong rocket
It wasn't exactly a software glitch that caused the European Ariane 5
rocket to veer off course during its maiden flight on June 4 shortly before
being blown up by on-board security systems which recognised that there was
something going wrong.
Actually, there was nothing wrong with the software, it simply was the
wrong software. 
According to the report of an inquiry commission published today, the main
reason for the disaster is simple: "The extensive reviews and tests carried
out during the Ariane 5 development programme did not include adequate
analysis and testing of the inertial reference system or of the complete
flight control system, which could have detected the potential failure."
The inertial reference system was the same that is used for the highly
reliable Ariane 4 launcher. Alain Bensoussan, chairman of French space
agency CNES, denied that the system was taken over blindly: "We didn't say,
'If it works on Ariane 4, then it will work on Ariane 5." And it didn't
work, anyway. It couldn't work.
Ariane 5 with its strong Vulcain engine has a completely different
behaviour in flight. For example, the rocket's horizontal velocity is five
times greater than that of Ariane 4. This unexpectedly high value made the
software crash, resulting in a complete shutdown of both the main and the
backup computer.
Ironically, the inertial reference systems aren't needed for flight
operations at all. They just tell the computer where the rocket is before
lift-off. Usually, the systems stay switched on for some 40 seconds into
the flight. Otherwise, realigning the systems would take about an hour
should the countdown be halted shortly before launch.
Let's hope that Arianespace customers do not read the report (which is
available on written request from ESA and CNES Public Relations.) Otherwise
they might get the impression that a faulty and completely useless piece of
software managed to halt both on-board computers. 
The rest is history: the nozzles of the two solid boosters swivelled into
an extreme position, followed by the Vulcain engine slightly later. The
rocket began to break apart under the stress exerted by the sudden change
of course. At least, other systems worked perfectly then, namely the
self-destruction mechanism. It was "correctly triggered by rupture of the
electrical links between the solid boosters and the core stage," a joint
statement of CNES and the European Space Agency said today.
The board of inquiry made a series of recommendations, comprising changes
in software, testing and overall management. Bensoussan dismissed press
reports that they would cost 40 billion francs (US$8 billion.) Some
actually are for free. 
As Lennart Lubeck, a member of the inquiry commission put it, "no software
function should run during flight unless it is needed." ESA and CNES have
announced to "switch off or inhibit the alignment function after lift-off"
and to modify data processing "particularly on detection of a fault (no
processor shutdown.)"
The ESA Director General and CNES Chairman will be making a joint
presentation of the plan of action put into effect and its programmatic
consequences at a press conference in September. The next Ariane 5 launch
will probably be delayed until early 1997.

Bertelsmann reported to switch decoders
German media giant Bertelsmann has denied it would take a stake in Leo
Kirch's digital TV package DF1. At the same time, it became increasingly
clear that Kirch has at least won the hardware battle. A joint press
conference of the two main rivals Kirch and Bertelsmann is scheduled for
next Friday, and very likely both will announce a common decoder for
digital services: Kirch's d-box, developed in co-operation with NetHold,
manufactured (amongst others) by Nokia. 
German pay-TV channel premiere, in which both Kirch and Bertelsmann hold a
stake, is likely to become the centre of the co-operation. Kirch's new
partner Rupert Murdoch is still reported to be looking for a substantial
stake in premiere, so far the only pay-TV channel in Germany with just 1.2
million subscribers.
DF1 is due to be launched next Sunday. Other planned digital services in
Germany comprise Club RTL (Bertelsmann/CLT), mTh (Canal Plus and others),
and Sieben Plus (Pro Sieben.)

European TV stations want their money back
The organisational chaos in Atlanta, known to the world as Olympic Games,
has lead 88 members of the European Broadcasting Union to claim a
compensation. "The International Olympic Committee and the Atlanta
Committee don't deliver what we paid for," the broadcasters said in a
letter to both organisations. "We're not satisfied with the promise that
they are working on improvements. They've had many years time, but if they
carry on like that the next two weeks, the Games will be over." Reportedly,
Canadian and South Korean stations support the complaint.

Another try for digital TV in Canada
Shaw DBS Ventures, a division of Shaw Communications Inc., today announced
that it filed an application with Industry Canada under the
Radiocommunication Act to establish and operate Direct Broadcast Satellites
(DBS) using Canada's 91W orbital slot. 
According to Jim Shaw, President & C.O.O. of Shaw Communications Inc., the
company plans to launch two high-power DBS satellites for the system named
Frontier. "The first is expected to be launched during the fourth quarter
of 1998, with a projected in service date for the first quarter 1999," he
said. The total estimated cost of the two satellites is $750 million.
Canadian needs will be given priority "by reserving a preponderance of
Frontier's capacity for Canadian DTH services". The remaining capacity
would be made available to others, most likely in the United States.
Shaw Communications also announced that it re-applied to the Canadian Radio
and Television Commission for a Direct-to-Home (DTH) satellite distribution
licence under the name Homestar. According to the company, it will be an
attractively-priced, digital-quality television service for Canadians from
coast to coast. "Homestar is capable of an early launch using existing
satellite facilities and is not dependent upon Frontier's satellite
facilities," said Mark Pezarro, President of Shaw DBS Ventures. "Homestar
can provide a made-in-Canada solution to the satellite grey market," he
So far, US digital TV services are not allowed to be marketed in Canada.
Many viewers circumvent the current legislation by subscribing to digital
packages using US addresses.
Shaw Communications is a diversified Canadian communications company whose
core business is the provision of cable television services. It also
operates nine radio stations, provides telecommunications services through
Shaw FibreLink and plans to provide DBS and DTH services through Shaw DBS
Ventures. Other strategic assets include Canada's youth speciality
television service YTV, the SEGA Channel, Digital Music Express (DMX) as
well as wireless telecommunications provider Microcell. 

More Brazilian satellites?
There seems to be a growing demand for satellite services in Brazil.
Several companies have teamed up in a partnership called Class in order to
offer a regional commercial satellite service. According to newspaper
Gazeta Mercantil, one of the partners has dropped out of the consortium.
Globopar is now expected to lease capacity on PanAmSat for its
direct-to-home TV system. The Class consortium is reviewing its strategy,
but according to Gazeta Mercantil there is still a strong demand for a new
satellite service.
The Brazilian telecommunications company Embratel is reported to negotiate
with the Argentinean satellite operator Nahuelsat to offer Ku Band
services, so far provided by Intelsat.
In a separate move, the Brazilian company NetSat has announced launching a
nationwide pay-per-view TV service by February 1997. NetSat will operate 30
pay per view channels in addition to 140 pay-TV channels in its
direct-to-home satellite service. 

n-tv: no audience, but money
The German financial newspaper Handelsblatt will take an equity stake in
the Berlin-based all-news channel n-tv. Financial details weren't
disclosed. So far, main shareholders are CNN (25.52 percent,) Time-Warner
(24.27 percent,) and the Nixdorf family (16.98 percent.) Although reaching
only a 0.3 percent audience share, n-tv expects to become profitable in
1997 or 1998.

Pro Sieben make money
Pro Sieben is the first German TV company to publish its financial results.
Revenues of Pro Sieben Television AG rose by 23 percent to DM1.47 billion
in 1995. Profits climbed by 14 percent to DM170.8 million. The company will
have 35.5 percent of the stock be listed publicly by mid-1997.
So far, retailer Rewe holds a 40 percent stake, while Leo Kirch's son
Thomas controls 24.5 percent.

Microsoft explodes
Software giant Microsoft yesterday reported a record profit for its fiscal
year ending June 30. Bill Gates' company recorded a 46 percent in revenues,
now amounting to US$8.67 billion. Profits climbed 47 percent to US$2.2

Copyright 1996 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.

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