Sat-ND, 11.1.97

Sat-ND 97-01-11 - Satellite and Media News

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AT&T said its TELSTAR 401 satellite (97W) experienced "an abrupt failure of
its telemetry and communications this morning." The interruption of services,
which occurred at 6:15 Eastern Standard Time, affected all customers, among
them ABC, Fox Network, Viacom/Paramount, and the Public Broadcasting System
AT&T said that some services have immediately been transferred to TELSTAR 402R
(89W.) That affects only customers with contracts that call for such measures
in case of a service outage. AT&T announced it would work with other customers
"to find alternative ways to transmit their programming," including "finding
interim transponder capacity for them on other satellites."
TELSTAR 401 is one of four satellites of AT&T's Skynet unit. Last September,
Loral Space and Communications announced it had entered into a "definitive
agreement" to buy Skynet for US$712.5 million in cash.
Apart from TELSTAR 401 and 402R, Skynet has just two older older TELSTAR
satellites in service (302, launched 1984, 85W; and 303, launched 1985,
120W.) Both are already in a slightly inclined orbit, i.e. they aren't fully
stabilised anymore. 
Space Systems/Loral is building two new replacement satellites which will have
a payload of 24 Ku-band transponders with a power of 110W and 24 C-band
transponders with 20W each. The first of the TELSTAR 5 satellites is scheduled
to be launched and in service in mid-1997.
TELSTAR 401, launched on December 12, 1993, was built by Lockheed Martin. Its
C- and Ku-band transponders cover all 50 states of the USA, Puerto Rico and the
U.S. Virgin Islands. 
Both manufacturer and operator are currently trying to work out the cause for
the TELSTAR 401 blackout. AT&T said it was trying to re-establish contact with
the spacecraft and restore services. 
Losing control of a geostationary satellite is by no means a rare event. ("If
anybody really knew what was going on up there, nobody would buy a satellite
dish anymore," according to an industry source.) Although I don't keep an exact
statistic on that, it seems that one or two GEO satellites per year can be
considered a partial or total loss. With many more satellites being launched to
a geostationary orbit, the failure rate will probably rise over the next few
The latest spectacular failure happened in March 1996 when Telesat Canada
temporarily lost control of its ANIK E1 satellite. Contact could be
re-established a few days later, but up until now most of the spacecraft's
capacity cannot be used.
In November 1995, Deutsche Telekom's DFS 3 (FM 1) suffered a complete breakdown
and started drifting uncontrollably. After being recaptured, it was soon
declared a total loss and conveyed to a graveyard orbit.
(Special thanks to Jean-Philippe Donnio who first informed me about the TELSTAR
401 outage. My apologies to anybody who still expects an answer to her or his
email -- I'll try to do that tomorrow unless another satellite goes gaga.)

The launch of the first three IRIDIUM satellites aboard a Delta II rocket was
called off once more today. It was [at least -- I stopped counting] the fourth
consecutive day with launch attempts, and each time a different problem
This time, the launch team noticed that small portions of the thermal
protection were separating from the launcher's liquid oxygen tank. The
protection layer is some 7 mm (1/4 inch) thick and made of cork[!]. It isolates
the thin-skinned tank from the heat during the initial phases of launch.
Anyway, we will have to wait more than a week for the next launch delay. The
next attempt will be taken no earlier than on January 19.

If the latest issue of German news magazine Der Spiegel is correct, then Walt
Disney Co. has launched an unsolicited attempt to control the country's
television market and strengthen its influence in other European countries as
The magazine will report next Monday that ABC/Disney demands nothing less than
a 50 percent stake in a planned holding that will combine the free-to-air
channels RTL Television, RTL 2 and Super RTL. 
Walt Disney Co. holds 50 percent in Super RTL, the smallest of the three
channels, and would thus become just a small investor in a combined holding.
While RTL Television has been Germany's most popular TV station for four years
in a row (its 1996 market share averaged to 17 percent,) its siblings have
attracted far less viewers (RTL 2: 4.5 percent, Super RTL: 2.1 percent.) 
Nonetheless, Disney's chairman Michael Eisner reportedly also demands 25
percent of CLT-Ufa, the largest European media company that will be created by
the merger of RTL's main shareholders CLT (Luxembourg) and Ufa (Germany.)
Meanwhile, Disney has even threatened RTL with cancelling its programme
supplies. Disney managers undoubtedly hit a weak spot there. The company is a
main software provider not only for Super RTL but for the main channel RTL
Television as well. As their biggest competitor Leo Kirch (SAT.1) has skilfully
managed to use his ailing digital service DF1 to clinch several output deals
with Hollywood majors, there is not too much left for RTL. Too bad for them
that Disney has finally recognised how important their programming really is.

Speaking of Leo Kirch: His digital TV service DF1 might soon be switched off
although, admittedly, this is not very likely. 
Pay-TV channel premiere, ironically partly owned by Leo Kirch, has sought an
injunction preventing Kirch from offering DF1 outside Bavaria. premiere claims
that DF1 holds no valid license to offer its service nation-wide, including
satellite broadcasts. 
DF1 has not only denied the accusations, claiming it had been granted a
nation-wide license, but also told a court yesterday that an injunction that
forces the service off of ASTRA would severely damage its business. This is
usually enough to keep German courts from issuing injunctions, anyway. [Money
rules. -- Ed.]
premiere is owned by France's Canal Plus and Germany's Bertelsmann/Ufa (37.5
percent each.) Leo Kirch holds the remaining 25 percent. In recent months, he
repeatedly became the target of legal action taken by premiere's majority
owners. premiere has announced to launch its own digital bouquet on February,

Copyright 1997 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.

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