Ariane 5 Launches Sicral 2 and Thor 7 Telecommunications Satellites

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CHICAGO — Europe’s Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket on April 26 successfully placed two telecommunications satellites – one military, one commercial – into geostationary transfer orbit, the Arianespace launch consortium said.

The launch, which had been delayed from mid-April for two unrelated anomalies relating to the rocket, is the first of what Arianespace hopes will be at least six, and perhaps seven, Ariane 5 flights in 2015 as the company juggles launch manifests for the Soyuz medium-lift and the Vega small-satellite launcher in addition to Ariane 5.

Operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America, the Ariane 5 placed into orbit the Sicral 2 military communications satellite, carrying a UHF- and SHF-band payload for the French and Italian defense ministries.

The 4,400-kilogram Sicral 2 represents a high-water mark in European military satellite communications cooperation that is unlikely to be matched anytime soon. Given conflicting deadlines among Europe’s existing military satellite telecommunications nations – France, Britain, Italy, Germany and Spain – the next-generation spacecraft are likely to be national efforts.

For Sicral 2, France and Italy agreed to provide separate payloads, sharing satellite construction and launch charges. The two nations are also sharing a Ka-band broadband military communications satellite, called Athena-Fidus, which was launched in 2014. Both Sicral 2 and Athena-Fidus were built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy.

Sicral 2 is designed to provide 7.7 kilowatts of power to its payload at the end of its 15-year service life. It is scheduled to operate from 37 degrees east.

European officials agree that hundreds of millions of euros/dollars could be saved by coordinating milsatcom efforts. Aside what for now remains the unique case of France and Italy with Sicral 2 and Athena-Fidus, attempts to coordinate have failed.

Riding in the Ariane 5 upper berth, which is reserved for the heavier of the two satellites, was the Thor 7 satellite owned by Telenor Satellite Broadcasting of Norway.

Built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California, the 4,600-kilogram Thor 7 carries 21 Ku-band transponders and the equivalent of 25 Ka-band transponders. Oslo-based Telenor is using the satellite to break into the market for Ka-band broadband maritime communications, with the focus on the North Atlantic.

Thor 7 is designed to provide 9.9 kilowatts of power to the payload at the end of its 15-year service life. It will operate from Telenor’s 0.8 degrees west orbital slot.

Telespazio of Rome, which managed the Sicral 2 launch on behalf of the French and Italian defense ministries, said the satellite was healthy in orbit and sending signals. Thor 7 owner Telenor Satellite Broadcasting said Thor 7 was healthy as well.