U.S. satellite launch industry gets boost
The U.S. satellite launch industry snagged some recent business to gain a welcome lift from a slump caused by weak demand and intense price competition. One of the biggest U.S. players, McLean, Va.-based International Launch Services, received a mid-June boost when it secured two substantial launch contracts for its Atlas III rocket.
In addition, Sea Launch, a joint venture led by Boeing, launched the Galaxy IIIC satellite for PanAmSat from the equator June 15. Designed for a 15-year lifespan, the 10,692-pound satellite will provide Internet, video, audio and data services to the United States and Latin America.
The two new customers lined up by ILS were Space Systems/Loral and NASA. SS/L and NASA were convinced by the new Lockheed Martin Corp.-built Atlas III's dependability, among other factors, to sign on the dotted line, said Eric Novotny, vice president of marketing at ILS. He noted that Atlas III performed flawlessly in its first two launch missions, one in 2000 and the second this past February. The next-generation Atlas rocket's positive news contrasts with the trouble Arianespace has been having with its next-generation Ariane rocket, the Ariane 5. The French launcher grounded the rocket last year following a much-publicized failure to lift two satellites into proper orbit because of an engine misfiring.
Atlas III, a follow-on to the successful Atlas II series, is testing technologies that will be used in the Atlas V developed by Lockheed for the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, said ILS President Mark Albrecht. The first mission of the Atlas V is scheduled for this month. Boeing is competing on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program with its Delta IV rocket, scheduled for first launch this year.
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