Ariane 5 Rocket Successfully Lofts Horizons-2, RascomStar-QAF1

KOUROU, French Guiana -- Europe's Ariane 5 rocket on Dec. 21 successfully launched telecommunications satellites for a U.S.-Japanese joint venture and a startup company that will offer telephone and Internet service throughout Africa after a decade-long struggle for financing.


The launch, from the Guiana Space Center here, was the sixth Ariane 5 liftoff this year for Europe's Arianespace commercial-launch consortium, a calendar-year record the company hopes to surpass in 2008 with seven or eight Ariane 5 liftoffs.


The Dec. 21 launch carried into orbit the Horizons-2 satellite, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., for a joint venture of Intelsat of Washington and JSAT Corp. of Tokyo. Horizons-2, the second satellite for the joint venture, will be placed at 74 degrees west longitude. For Intelsat, Horizons-2 will replace the SBS-6 spacecraft, which is being retired after 17 years in orbit. Horizons-2 weighed 2,304 kilograms at launch and is expected to operate its 20 Ku-band transponders for 15-17 years.


Intelsat and JSAT will use the satellite for telecommunications services thoughout the continental United States, the Caribbean and parts of Canada. The satellite was already 40 percent booked before launch, according to Intelsat officials.


Also placed into geostationary transfer orbit was the Rascom-QAF1 satellite, for the RascomStar-QAF company registered in Port Louis, Mauritius. Rascom's shareholders are 45 African nations, led by Libya, which have invested in Rascom as a way of reducing their dependence on non-African satellite suppliers.


Passing through various configurations and ownership structures, Rascom has been trying for more than a decade to assemble the program. With the entry of Libya Africa Investment Portfolio, a Libyan investment fund, and the Libyan General Post and Telecommunications Co., and later by three African development banks, the $370 million package was secured.


Rascom-QAF1, built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy -- which is a shareholder in Rascom -- carries eight C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders. It will operate from 2.85 degrees east longitude, an orbital slot made available to RascomStar-QAF -- QAF stands for Qamar Afrikir, or African moon -- by the government of the Ivory Coast.


Rascom's other mission is to provide telecommunications links to up to 130,000 rural telephone cabins. RascomStar-QAF expects to purchase the first 15,000 of these terminals in a contract expected to be signed with a terminal manufacturer to be selected by March. Once the design has proven itself, RascomStar-QAF expects that African telecommunications companies will purchase and deploy the cabins on their own.


RascomStar-QAF officials say the goal is to be able to offer these terminals for about $1,200 apiece, including a small solar panel to provide electricity, once the research and design costs have been amortized by the first RascomStar-QAF-financed 15,000 units.