Proton Successfully Lofts LightSquared’s SkyTerra 1

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PARIS — An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket on Nov. 15 placed startup U.S. mobile-broadband provider LightSquared’s L-band communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit in the seventh ILS commercial launch, and the 10th Proton mission overall, in 2010, LightSquared and ILS announced.

Tom Surface, spokesman for Reston, Va.-based LightSquared, said the satellite, called SkyTerra 1, was sending signals and was in good health in orbit.

LightSquared thus becomes the third U.S. satellite operator to launch a state-of-the-art mobile broadband satellite for U.S. consumers in the past 31 months, following the ICO-G1 satellite owned by DBSD North America, formerly ICO North America, and TerreStar Networks’ TerreStar 1 spacecraft.

All three satellites are designed to combine their signals with a network of ground-based repeaters, operating in the same frequencies, known as Ancillary Terrestrial Components (ATC), to provide wireless mobile broadband links in North America.

Deploying a nationwide network of ATC signal repeaters will cost several billion dollars.

Backed by hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners of New York, LightSquared is hoping for a smoother path toward starting its business than that encountered by its two predecessors, which have both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The TerreStar and DBSD/ICO satellites operate in S-band, while LightSquared uses the L-band section of the radio spectrum. The three satellites feature large antennas built by Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., that are stowed for launch and then unfurled, umbrella-style, once the satellites reach their operating orbits.

LightSquared’s is the biggest of the three antennas — 22 meters in diameter, compared with 18 meters for TerreStar 1 and 12 meters for ICO-G1. Boeing Satellite Systems International, which built SkyTerra 1, expects to deploy the L-band antenna once the satellite has completed initial in-orbit checkout of its vital functions and settled into a circular geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator.

SkyTerra 1 is a Boeing 702HP model designed to operate for 15 years and to deliver 13 kilowatts of power at the end of its service life. It weighed 5,360 kilograms at launch and will operate at 101.3 degrees west longitude.

Surface said the satellite’s solar panels should be fully deployed by Nov. 28, with the 22-meter L-band antenna to be unfurled Nov. 29. The satellite’s Ku-band antenna will also be activated that day. The deployable radiator panels will be deployed on Nov. 30, after which payload testing will begin.

The launch, from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, was the seventh of a planned eight in 2010 for ILS, which is based in Reston and owned by Proton manufacturer Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow. ILS plans its final launch of the year, of Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat Ka-band consumer broadband satellite, in mid-December. Ka-Sat will be the first of a new generation of extremely high throughput, all-Ka-band satellites set for launch by U.S. and European operators in the next two years.