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Atlas IIIA Launches Eutelsat W4 Using Russian RD-180 Engine

A Lockheed Martin Atlas IIIA, powered by a Russian engine, launched Eutelsat W4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, pad SLC 36B, at 4:10 p.m. PDT (2310 UTC) May 24. This flight was the debut of the Atlas IIIA, and also the first time an American rocket has been powered by a Russian designed and built engine.

The 31-transponder Ku-band 3190 kg (7031 lbm) satellite is based on the Alcatel Space Spacebus 3000B2. The satellite will be positioned at 36°E where it is scheduled to go into service in June. Nineteen of the transponders on the satellite will be switched into a high-power fixed beam over Russia. Sixteen of these transponders use the frequencies held by the Russian Federation (the RST-1 / RITM network), and will be used for direct-to-home digital television broadcasting by the Russian media group Media Most. One fixed and one steerable beam, each with six transponders, will be pointed over sub-Saharan Africa. The satellite has a design life of 12.5 years, with an expected end-of-life power of 6.000 kW.

Four days after Vladimir Putin took office as Russia’s new President, Media-Most’s offices were raided by government agents, searching the premises for documents and videotapes. The raid was conducted by the FSB, the domestic successor to the Soviet KGB, and allegedly was seeking evidence on the misdeeds of a former Finance Ministry official, then they changed their story, claiming they were investigating Media-Most on charges of privacy violations and possible tax irregularities. Media-Most is Russia’s largest private media company. Media-Most supported one of Putin’s rivals in the recent presidential race, Yuri Luzhkov. The company claims the government is trying to force it out of business by putting pressure on Gazprom, a natural gas company, to recall a US$211 million loan to Media-Most.

EUTELSAT, Paris, delivers a broad range of consumer and professional satellite services to Europe, Asia, Africa and America, operating more than 15 satellites. EUTELSAT was founded as the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization in 1985 as an intergovernmental organization which now represents 47 member countries of Europe. By early-2001, EUTELSAT's structure will be streamlined into two tiers: Eutelsat, S.A., a private limited company (société anonyme) headquartered in France, to which all assets and activities will be transferred, and an intergovernmental organization which will ensure that basic principles of pan-European coverage, universal service, non-discrimination and fair competition are observed by the company.

The US$10 million RD-180 engine is being marketed and sold by RD AMROSS, LLC, a joint venture formed by Pratt & Whitney and NPO Energomash. NPO Energomash, Khimky, Russia, designed the RD-180. Pratt & Whitney Space Propulsion, West Palm Beach, Florida, financed the nearly US$100 million development of the RD-180 for the Atlas III program. The RD-180 also will be used by the Atlas V, scheduled to first launch in the spring of 2002. Lockheed Martin has ordered 101 engines for US$1 billion.

The next Atlas IIIA launch could come in December, if a customer is found. The first Atlas 3B flight is targeted for March or April of 2001. Atlas III flights will continue in 2002 and 2003 providing an overlap during the introduction of the Atlas V, should problems develop with the new launcher. Lockheed Martin spent US$300 million developing the Atlas III family, which will likely fly only 12 to 18 times before being phased out. The Atlas IIIA rocket is about 25 percent cheaper than an Atlas IIAS

 


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May 24, 2000

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