Sat-ND, 12.3.97

Sat-ND 97-03-12 - Satellite and Media News

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According to Itar-Tass, the Russian-European joint venture Starsem
will launch twelve GLOBALSTAR mobile communications satellites aboard
three Soyuz-U rockets in late 1998. Each of the satellites weighs in
at 500 kg, a bit too much for the Soyuz-U. Therefore, the launchers
will be equipped with French-built accelerators that will finally put
the spacecraft into their respective orbits. 
The emphasis should obviously be on "French" here as similar Russian
devices didn't work too well in the past. A malfunction of an
accelerator, frequently also being referred to as the "fourth stage"
(on a three-stage rocket,) led to the spectacular failure of Russia's
MARS 96 probe last December.
Starsem offers satellite launches with the intermediate-class rockets
Soyuz-U and Molnia-M. It was set up by the Russian Space Agency, the
State Space Centre "CSKB-Progress" (Samara), France's Aerospatiale
and the European launch provider Arianespace. Interestingly, the
joint enterprise plans to invest part of its profits -- US$30 million
-- in the development of the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhst and (and
not into one of the two Russian launch sites.) The rest will be spent
to manufacture new rockets at CSKB-Progress, Itar-Tass said. The
price of a Soyuz-U launch is estimated at US$25 - 35 million.

Another joint venture offering Russian satellite launch services,
SeaLaunch, will use a Zenit-2 rocket to launch an unidentified
communications satellite built by U.S. company Hughes in the fourth
quarter of 1998. It will be the first of ten Hughes spacecraft
launched from a sea-going platform, actually a converted drilling
Once again we have to believe Itar-Tass when the news agency explains
that the Zenit-2 launcher is not only "ecologically friendly" but
also "according to experts [...] the best middle-class missile."
What was news to me is that the SeaLaunch platform will use different
positions depending on the final destination of the satellite to be
launched. A place north-east of Hawaii will be used to fire up
satellites which designation is a low-earth or a polar orbit.
Geostationary birds will be launched from a point near Kiribati,
formerly known as the Gilbert Islands, now an independent state in
the west central Pacific Ocean. (By the way: that's just north of
Tonga, a well-known satellite slotmonger.) Not a surprise, though --
the equator runs through the Kiribati territory. The closer the site
is to the equator, the more payload can be launched into a
geostationary transfer orbit.
Itar-Tass reported that a Zenit-2 (sea)launch is expected to cost
around US$90 million. 
Within the SeaLaunch consortium, the Ukrainian company Yuzhmash
provides the rockets, Russia's Energija produces their third stages
DM-2, Norway's Kvaerner Shipping remodels oil rigs into launch pads
and constructs the control and logistics vessel, while Boeing is
actually financing the whole thing by providing US$500 million.

The launch of the latest U.S. weather satellite, GOES 10
(Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite,) has been
scheduled for April 24. Its operator, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) today announced the satellite
would be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station but would not
become operational immediately once it has reached geostationary
orbit. Instead, it will be kept as an in-orbit spare, ready to
replace either of the two current geostationary weather satellites
(GOES 8, 74.7W, and GOES 9, 135.6W.)
NOAA is reportedly spending about US$1 billion for five GOES
satellites, with two more yet to be delivered. The satellites provide
data for short-term weather forecasts as well as the pictures U.S.
viewers get to see on TV weather reports.

According to the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, the regional satellite
operator Arabsat (Arab Satellite Communication Organisation) is to
double its profits for the current year to US$60 million. Owned by 21
Arab countries, Arabsat has two operational satellites -- ARABSAT 2A
(26E) and 2B (30.5E.) [There's still ARABSAT 1C hanging around at
31E, but I don't know whether it still works. Anyway, 1C is
officially a Saudi-Arabian and not an Arabsat satellite.]
Arabsat expects the increase in profits following returns from high
investments and the fact that all available transponders are now

Another country has announced to stage a major crackdown on free
satellite reception. Vietnam's Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet has signed
a decree that restricts the chosen few to senior officials,
government bodies, foreign companies, non-governmental organisations,
diplomats and hotels rated at least two stars. Anybody else will be
asked to remove reception equipment voluntarily. An official of the
so-called Information and Culture Service (HICS) was quoted by a
Vietnamese magazine as saying that satellite dishes owned by people
without licenses will be removed.

Oh yes, and then we will have Astra-Net. The Luxembourg-based
commercial satellite operator has finally decided to jump onto the
Internet-via-satellite train, and it will do so with a potent partner
-- Intel Corp.,  the rather controversial than popular manufacturer
of microprocessors. (Just remember that Pentium floating point
division bug. The highly-hyped MMX Pentium processors reportedly have
some performance problems as well.)
Anyway, Intel Corporation and Societe Europeenne des Satellite (SES)
announced the formation of European Satellite Multimedia Services
S.A. (ESM), a new Luxembourg based company chartered to enable
satellite delivery of multimedia content directly to personal
computers in Europe. Intel and SES are initial investors in ESM, with
SES holding the majority share. Other investors are expected to join
ESM will launch Astra-Net, a so-called communications platform using
SES's ASTRA satellite system. In a press release, Intel said that "It
is expected that information will be delivered at speeds hundreds of
times faster than with conventional telephone modems." Very clever,
indeed -- they don't promise anything, they just expect it.
What's not less clever: Intel claims that reception of that Astra-Net
service requires not only a satellite dish pointed at the Astra
satellite system but also a computer equipped with Intel's Pentium
processor (and besides an extra PC card which obviously is so passive
that the microprocessor has to do the main part of the job.) 
Astra-Net will be operational in the second half of 1997. [Please, do
not ask me for the transponders that will be involved.]
The service will be Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) compliant. DVB
is the European standard for data, video, and audio transmissions
over satellite, cable, or terrestrial media. Whether that means that
European users will also have access to the service using
DVB-compatible set-top boxes such as Leo Kirch's d-box remains to be

Sometimes it can be quite beneficial to deny even rumours that don't
really exist. [It may even get you a mention in Sat-ND.] The chief
executive of Britain's Channel 5, David Elstein, let it be known
today that the channel will be launched at the end of this month
despite what he called "rumours to the contrary." 
"As of yesterday, we have notified the Independent Television
Commission that we believe we have achieved a 90 percent re-tuning
target in all our transmission areas," said Mr Elstein. Channel 5's
license requires the company to reach the 90 percent margin before
being allowed on air.
Speaking to a conference in London, Elstein also had to admit that
the project had cost 150 million, three times the original estimate.
"I don't believe any of the applicants for the Channel 5 Licence
anticipated the problems of wastage and attrition that we
Too bad, especially as the expensive retuning scheme turned out to be
rather pointless as less than 10 percent of the domestic equipment
involved actually needed tweaking. "In fact 90 percent of our 150
million has been wasted, but I don't know which 90 percent," Elstein

For the first time, a commercial channel has beaten the Polish public
broadcaster TVP. It happened last Wednesday when 32.6 percent of the
Polish audience tuned into Polsat, leaving just 29.2 percent to TVP
The figures, which were published only yesterday by the research
institute OBOP, show that cable and satellite distribution became
increasingly important in Poland. Polsat is the only commercial
broadcaster to hold a nation-wide license, but if I remember it
correctly from my last visit to Poland, it is mainly (if not
exclusively) available on cable and satellite. However, other
channels without such a license can be received via satellite and
cable, too. Terrestrial commercial TV licenses were issued for
regional channels. 

You know the Discovery Channel, I suppose. Do you know the Recovery
Channel? It will launch in the USA April 23, offering two exciting
hours of original programming every day, such as group-therapy
session tapes covering topics such as alcoholism, eating disorders,
smoking and drug abuse. Sure sounds like fun to me!

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

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