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SES Americom Eyes HDTV With AMC-11

By | May 24, 2004

      CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla.–The AMC-11 telecommunications satellite successfully lifted into orbit May 19 onboard an Atlas IIAS rocket. The satellite should enhance Princeton, N.J.-based SES Americom’s service to a number of top U.S. cable TV programmers.

      AMC-11 is equipped with 24 36 MHz C-band transponders and is built to provide state-of-the-art digital and HDTV capabilities to all 50 United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. The satellite is scheduled to take the place of Satcom C-3 at orbital location 131 degreesW in early November, once the new spacecraft becomes operational.

      When service from the AMC-11 is combined with its twin AMC-10 spacecraft, the two satellites will form a cable TV neighborhood that SES Americom is marketing as HD-PRIME. The intent is to create a location in space that offers cable TV programmers access to a formidable in-orbit cable neighborhood. It also would expand SES Americom’s penetration among cable TV operators.

      “It drives digital and HDTV programming to the next level,” said Bryan McGuirk, senior vice president of domestic satellite services at SES Americom. The AMC-11 satellite, coupled with the AMC-10 launched in February for service at the 135 degreesW orbital slot, will create the first two-satellite HD-neighborhood in the satellite industry, McGuirk added.

      “What this means is that we can provide content into 100 percent of the homes served by our cable TV customers in the United States,” said Dean Olmstead, president and CEO of SES Americom.

      SES Beefs Up

      AMC-11 is one of three Lockheed Martin-built [LMT] satellites slated for launch this year to expand SES Americom’s global fleet of satellites. SES Americom’s in-orbit spacecraft distribute cable, broadcast television and radio programming, mobile communications, business television, broadband data and telecommunications services.

      SES Americom is the largest supplier of satellite services in the United States. The company also is the American satellite-operating subsidiary of Luxembourg-based SES Global, the world’s largest satellite operator. Founded in 1973, SES Americom launched its first satellite circuit for the U.S. Armed Forces in December 1975.

      When the AMC-11 becomes operational, SES Americom’s fleet will expand to 17 satellites. The aging Satcom C-3 that AMC-11 is intended to replace could be used to provide supplemental C-band capacity for SES Americom customers. The Satcom C-4 that AMC-10 is preparing to relieve also could be used for a similar purpose.

      Expected Life

      The AMC-10 and AMC-11 satellites are based on the A2100 model spacecraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, of Newtown, Pa. Both satellites have a design life of 15 years. However, each has enough fuel to operate for 30 years with a typical launch performance, said Barry Noakes, the chief technology officer for Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems.

      One limiting factor on the full operational capability of either satellite is the solar arrays, Noakes said. The solar arrays are vulnerable to in-orbit damage from the hostile space environment 22,500 miles above Earth. Solar flares in space during the 30-year fuel life typically would degrade and not support the full operation of a satellite much past 20 years, Noakes said. As a result, a satellite with 24 transponders may only have a fraction of them operational after 20 years due to power loss from the solar array.

      “If there is less sun spot activity than predicted, then the solar arrays will support full operation past 20 years,” Noakes said.

      Dany Harel, vice president of space systems and operations at SES Americom, said the AMC-11 satellite would be positioned initially at 146 degreesW, where it will be tested for three weeks. Upon completion of testing, the satellite will be moved to 131 degreesW in October. The satellite is scheduled to begin commercial service in early November, Harel added.

      The Satcom C-3 that will be replaced by the AMC-11 will operate into spring of 2005. On the plus side, the Satcom C-3 has sufficient station-kept fuel to maintain its current service until May, Harel said.

      “Traditionally, our estimated fuel life is conservative,” Harel said.

      The Lockheed Martin A2100 geosynchronous spacecraft model used for the AMC-10 and AMC-11 satellites is designed to meet a wide variety of FSS telecommunications needs. The A2100’s modular design features a reduced number of parts, simplified construction, and reduced weight and cost that are aimed at increasing in-orbit reliability.

      Atlas II Era Ends On A High Note

      Last week’s mission was delayed 30 minutes until 6:22 p.m. EST due to a Lockheed Martin launch vehicle team request to review flight software test data. The launch team wanted to ensure that a problem observed in a Denver test lab was not present on the Atlas launch vehicle poised to lift off later that day with AMC-11 from Cape Canaveral.

      The flight also marked the final commercial mission of the Atlas IIAS rocket. The launch vehicle’s farewell flight is scheduled to carry a payload for the U.S. government later this year. The first Atlas IIAS was December 1993, when it carried a Telstar 104 telecommunications satellite into orbit for AT&T [T].

      “Atlas IIAS is a stepping stone to the Atlas V,” a more powerful and cost-effective launch vehicle that is better suited for carrying the large satellites that increasingly are used by fixed satellite services operators, said Adrian Laffitte, Lockheed Martin’s director of Atlas launch operations. McLean, Va.-based International Launch Services, a Lockheed Martin joint venture, markets the Atlas rocket for both commercial and government missions.

      72 Consecutive Successes

      The near-perfect launch of the Atlas IIAS rocket into a partly cloudy blue sky last Wednesday marked the 72nd consecutive successful mission for the Atlas family of launch vehicles. Lockheed Martin builds the Atlas rockets and their Centaur upper stages at factories in Denver, Colo.; Harlingen, Texas; and San Diego, Calif.

      “The record of the Atlas family is certainly as good as it gets,” Mark Albrecht, president and CEO of International Launch Services, told Satellite News Senior Analyst and Senior Editor Paul Dykewicz, shortly after last Wednesday’s launch.

      Cable Favorites

      The AMC-11 satellite will carry a number of the most popular U.S. television channels. They include: Animal Planet, Bravo, Bravo HD+, CNBC, Discovery, Discovery HD Theater, E! Entertainment, Food Network, History Channel, Home & Garden Television, Home Shopping Network, The Movie Channel, MSNBC, MTV, Nickelodeon, QVC, Showtime, TLC, Travel Channel, TV Land, Univision, VH-1 and The Weather Channel.

      SES Americom satellites provide service throughout the Americas, across Europe, over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and throughout Asia.

      –Paul Dykewicz

      (Brian McGuirk, SES Americom, 609/987-4222; Dany Harel, SES Americom, 609/987-4243; Dean Olmstead, SES Americom, 609/987-4100; Barry Noakes, Lockheed Martin, 215/497-2008; Mark Albrecht, International Launch Services, 571/633-7400)

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