Sea Launch Lofts Eutelsat 70B in Final Launch of 2012

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LONDON A Sea Launch AG Zenit-3SL rocket successfully placed the Eutelsat 70B telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit Dec. 3, a launch that will help Paris-based Eutelsat fuel growth in its business with the U.S. government.

Eutelsat said 70B, built by Astrium Satellites and carrying 48 transponders connected to four regional beams, was healthy in orbit and is expected to begin commercial service in mid-January.

Operating at Eutelsat’s 70.5 degrees east orbital position, 70B will double the capacity now offered from that slot from the Eutelsat 70A. Eutelsat has said 70A, which was launched in 2002, would be moved to another, undisclosed orbital slot.

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Once in operation, Eutelsat 70B will focus coverage on Central and South Asia and Africa, in addition to Europe and parts of Asia.

The Asian and African coverage areas are thought to be attractive to the U.S. Defense Department, a regular Eutelsat customer, which has been unable to satisfy its full demand because of a lack of satellite capacity in desired areas.

Eutelsat officials have said 70B is one of several satellites under construction that will shore up what Eutelsat calls its “Multi-Usage” business, which provides bandwidth to military and other government agencies. Once Eutelsat’s star performer, the division’s growth has slowed in the past year or so as Eutelsat awaited the entry into service of new capacity.

The launch, from Sea Launch’s floating platform placed on the equator in international waters in the Pacific Ocean, was Bern, Switzerland-based Sea Launch AG’s third and last for the year.

Sea Launch has scheduled the launch of the Intelsat IS-27 satellite in early 2013, a transition year when the company expects to rebuild its inventory of rocket parts with its Russian and Ukrainian partners before reaching a three- to four-launch annual rhythm starting in 2014.