B-plan for Project PROBE – just in case

Wellington, we won't have a problem

Iconz and Shin Satellite’s local representative are hopeful that they won’t have to call the Ministries of Economic Development and Education to say “Wellington, we have a problem” in February next year. That is when the IPstar 1 satellite is expected to be launched in order to supply bandwidth for remote regions in New Zealand under Project PROBE.

IPstar 1 has had its launch postponed several times already, with the original date early this year moved first to May, then to July, September and now February 2005, according to John Humphries, director of IPstar New Zealand Ltd, a wholly-owned Shin Satellite subsidiary.

Humphries says the delays have been caused by the IPstar manufacturer Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California, being extremely cautious during the construction, as the $US350 million dollar satellite will be exposed to extreme forces during take-off and great temperature variations while in orbit.

During final testing a faulty component was found on a different satellite. Even though the same component on IPstar 1 was not malfunctioning, Space Systems/Loral decided to replace it, Humphries says.

Humphries says IPstar 1 will be “the heaviest satellite ever lifted”, weighing in at 6,775kg. Describing it as “the size of a truck” Humphries says the main body of the satellite is about as large as a three-storey house.

Shin Satellite will use the French Ariane 5 rocket to hoist IPstar 1 into orbit, from the Korou spaceport in French Guyana, South America. The European space consortium ArianeSpace that operates Korou is the world’s largest satellite launching service with some 250 contracts signed.

However, Ariane 5 exploded during its maiden launch in 1996 because of a software bug and the rocket’s self-destruction mechanism triggered again in 2002, and blew it up after it veered off course over the Atlantic. In 2001, Ariane 5 failed to put two satellites at their correct altitudes resulting in the loss of one and the shortened mission of the other.

Asked if the chequered history of Ariane 5 is a concern, Humphries says that Shin wanted a proven engine and has “bought the most conventional drive which has had a number of successful launches already and lifted the heaviest satellite so far, the Canadian Anik F2”.

Nevertheless, should the launch fail, Humphries says there is a Plan B.

Currently, the broadband satellite service is being tested with “some 30 antennas around the country and a gateway in Sydney” using the New Skies 5 satellite. Humphries refers to this as the “first generation” service with the second being IPstar 1, which has a gateway in Albany, Auckland, that is already built and waiting to start transmission once the satellite has been launched.

John Scott Russell, ICONZ research and development manager echoed Humphries’ sentiments and says while a failed launch “would be devastating for Shin” it would not affect the provider’s PROBE plans.

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