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Third time lucky for Thuraya launch

Sea Launch has finally sent the Thuraya satellite into orbit after a string of technical problems.

Thuraya-1, the first satellite of the UAE-based Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company was successfully launched on Saturday after technical problems caused the launch to be delayed twice.

Lifting off from the Sea Launch platform in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at 9:52 am UAE time, the five tonne satellite is now in a geo-synchronous orbit over Africa. It can provide telephone coverage for 99 countries across the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

“Today’s launch success has complemented many successful commercial and technical milestones already accomplished by Thuraya, which together put our leading system in perspective for providing a vital, premier service on schedule,” said Mohammad Omran, chairman of Thuraya. All systems onboard the Russian and Ukrainian three-stage rocket performed normally, with the final, upper stage separating from the satellite 1,388 miles above South America.

High call capacity

“Now that we have a successful satellite launch, we will be moving full swing towards getting the service ready and at well-tested quality for our customers by the first quarter of 2001,” said Omran. “Thuraya-1 will enable more than one third of the world’s population to have a convenient, reliable and affordable access to modern telecommunications, whether they are in urban hubs or rural outposts.”

The US $1 billion contract signed in 1997 between Thuraya and satellite-makers Hughes included manufacture of two high power geo-synchronous satellites, launch of the first spacecraft, insurance, ground facilities in the United Arab Emirates and user handsets. The second spacecraft is a ground spare, and there is an option for a third satellite. Portions of the ground segment, as well as the telephone handsets, were subcontracted to Hughes.

The Thuraya communications payload design is one of the most powerful ever produced for a mobile satellite system, and uses an enhanced active phased-array antenna design in combination with a state-of-the-art, digital signal processor for beam forming, channel formation and switching.

The spot beams can be redirected on-orbit, wherever needed from big cities to rural areas and even at sea. Thuraya has the capacity for 13,750 simultaneous calls. Designed for a 12-year lifespan, the Thuraya-1 satellite will be positioned in Geo-synchronous Orbit, 36,000 km (22,500 miles) above the Earth, at 44 degrees East Longitude, and inclined at 6.3 degrees.

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