Ariane 5 Launches Satellites for DirecTV, ISRO

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PARIS — The DirecTV-14 direct-to-home television satellite launched Dec. 6 aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket carries the first commercial payload using the so-called “Reverse Band” that U.S. and international regulators made available for use several years ago to increase spectrum supply.

Owned by DirecTV Group of El Segundo, California, DirecTV-14 carries the equivalent of 18 Reverse Band transponders using the 17-gigahertz portion of the radio spectrum in addition to 16 Ka-band transponders.

Phil Goswitz, DirecTV’s senior vice president for space and communications, said after the launch that, just as DirecTV pioneered the use of Ka-band for direct-to-home satellite television in 2005 with the launch of the Spaceway 2 satellite, the company is now moving into Reverse Band to usher in Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) television broadcasts.

The 4K version of UHD that DirecTV is using requires four times the bandwidth of a high-definition television broadcast. Goswitz said that other satellite television broadcasters have hesitated in adopting UHD because they were unsure of the market. DirecTV, he said, is moving full-steam ahead with UHD preparations.

DirecTV-14 was built by Space Systems Loral of Palo Alto, California. Its solar arrays can generate up to 21 kilowatts of power, of which 15 kilowatts will be used for the television broadcast payload. The satellite weighed 6,300 kilograms at launch and is designed to operate for 15 years at its intended slot at 99 degrees west longitude.

Operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America, the heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA rocket also carried the GSAT-16 telecommunications satellite, built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which is also the satellite’s owner and operator.

GSAT-16 weighed about 3,200 kilograms at launch and carries 12 Ku- and 24 C- and extended-C-band transponders. It is designed to operate for 12 years at 55 degrees east. S.K. Shivakumar, director of ISRO’s satellite center in Bangalore, said GSAT-16 should be in service by the end of December.

ISRO and DirecTV both said they had confirmed their satellites’ health in transfer orbit after the launch.

The launch, which was delayed for two days because of high winds in the upper atmosphere over the spaceport, was the 10th of the year for launch-services provider Arianespace of Evry, France, and the sixth Ariane 5 campaign. Arianespace also operates Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher and the Europeanized version of Russia’s Soyuz medium-lift vehicle.

Arianespace expects to complete an 11th launch this year, of a Soyuz rocket carrying four O3b Networks Ka-band broadband satellites. The launch is scheduled for Dec. 18.

Both DirecTV and ISRO will return to the European spaceport in 2015. The DirecTV 15 satellite, also using Reverse Band but built by Airbus Defence and Space, is scheduled for launch by March. ISRO’s GSAT-15 will be ready for an Ariane 5 launch late this summer, Shivakumar said.

ISRO has been a regular Arianespace customer over the years, launching 17 or 18 satellites, depending on how one counts satellite ownership.

ISRO is also moving to complete the full qualification of its GSLV launch vehicle, which ultimately is expected to be able to carry satellites weighing up to 4,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit. While the vehicle is not expected to be active in the global commercial market for the foreseeable future, it is designed to handle India’s domestic launch requirements alongside the PSLV rocket, used for lower orbits.