July 26, 2013
ESA Successfully Launches Alphasat, Most Advanced Satellite To Date
[ Watch the Video: Alphasat Liftoff Replay ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The European Space Agency's (ESA) biggest and most advanced satellite was successfully launched into orbit yesterday from Kourou, French Guiana, the international agency said.
Lifting off at 3:54 pm EST, an Ariane 5 ECA rocket blasted into space - placing the Alphasat satellite in orbit 28 minutes later. At 4:38, the ESA began picking Alphasat's signal, a statement said.
Alphasat's main purpose is to expand the network of British telecommunications company Inmarsat's current global mobile network. The 7.3-ton satellite was built through a partnership between the ESA and Inmarsat.
"Alphasat will foster the competitiveness of a European telecommunications operator, Inmarsat, associated with European industry, in a domain where the economic prospects are high," said ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications Magali Vaissiere.
"We are proud at ESA to have been able to bring together the energies, capabilities and resources in this enterprise," she added.
"Alphasat is the successful combination of different partnerships: between ESA and the French national agency, CNES, to develop Alphabus, the satellite's platform; between two major European companies, Thales Alenia Space and Astrium; and between ESA Member States and Inmarsat," said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain.
"The latter is a rewarding public-private partnership where ESA is taking the risk to develop new technologies and Inmarsat is using these technologies to open up a new market," Dordain continued. "The qualification in orbit of the Alphabus platform and technology demonstrators on board will open doors for many more partnerships in the short-term future.
"It is an excellent example of how ESA is boosting Europe's competitiveness and growth," he added.
The launch of Alphasat also marks the first flight for Alphabus, a new European telecom platform. The new high-power multipurpose satellite network can handle commercial missions with up to 22 kW of payload power and gives Europe a step up in the highly competitive global telecom market.
The satellite is expected to expand Inmarsat's global broadband network to cover Europe, Africa and the Middle East during its 15-year lifespan. Using a state-of-the-art processor, the satellite is capable of performing trillions of operations per second.
Alphasat is also set to communicate with the German Tandem-X satellite using an experimental optical communication, or laser-based, system. Later this year, NASA will launch its own laser communications system in the form of its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). The explorer will use an AM radio-style modulated laser and eight ground telescopes to beam information back and forth to Earth. Both laser systems are designed to skirt radio interference in space and on Earth.
The new laser systems will allow scientists to boost their communications capabilities that were beginning to be hampered by the constraints of radio signals currently being used. The new lasers will enable the transmission of more data more rapidly.
"This is a big step forward," Hamid Hemmati, a specialist in optical communications at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Nature magazine. "Europe is going beyond demonstrations for the first time and making operational use of the technology."