Kourou (French Guiana), Oct 6: An Ariane-5 rocket blasted off from French Guiana putting into orbit two telecommunications satellites -- both built by US satellite manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corp., witnesses at the launch site said.
The rocket was launched yesterday from Europe's space base in Kourou, on the northeast coast of South America, at 7.02 pm (0432 hrs IST).
Twenty-seven minutes after launch, Intelsat 11, a 2.5 tonne (5,500 lb) satellite for US-based international operator Intelsat, was released into a preliminary orbit, officials of the Arianespace company said in a video transmission.
The satellite is designed for television and data transmissions throughout Latin America.
''Intelsat 11 will be our 53rd spacecraft in our fleet covering all of Latin America and part of the southern United States,'' Intelsat Vice President Kenneth Lee said after the launch.
Intelsat was the first commercial satellite operator, launching Early Bird in 1965.
It was run as a semi-governmental agency until being taken private in August 2004 by Apax Partners in a 3.1 billion dollars deal. Months later, Intelsat expanded by agreeing to buy another large satellite operator, PanAmSat.
In June, UK-based private equity firm BC Partners agreed to buy a 76 percent stake in Intelsat Ltd., for 4.6 billion dollars cash.
Intelsat had 11.4 billion dollars of debt at the time of the June buyout.
Private equity firms in particular are drawn to the satellite sector because of the companies' steady cash flows, which allow them to take on large amounts of debt to finance transactions.
Five minutes later, the rocket released into space Optus D2 for the Australian satellite operator Optus. This satellite will provide television, internet and data transmissions to Australia and New Zealand.
''The D2 is a great addition to our Optus fleet and it will deliver a variety of new services to our customers throughout Australia and New Zealand,'' said Optus Managing Director Steve Christian.
''Optus' satellite fleet is uniquely positioned in Australia as the single operator that can provide services throughout New Zealand and Australia,'' Christian said.
Optus, Australia's second largest telecommunications operator, was acquired by Singapore Telecommunications Limited (SingTel) in 2001.
Ariane rockets are launched by the Paris-based Arianespace rocket launch company that is 28 per cent-owned by European aerospace giant EADS.
Friday's launch used one of the three Ariane-5 Generic rockets remaining in Arianespace's inventory.
It will also test in several hours a re-ignitable upper stage that will be used starting next year when Ariane rockets are due to haul cargo to the international space station using a 'space bus' called the Automatic Transfer Vehicle (ATV).
Arianespace President Jean-Yves Le Gall told Reuters: ''This is part of the rocket's qualification for the ATV...The results will be available in a week to 10 days as the re-ignition will not be visible to our ground stations.'' The Generic has a maximum launch capacity of 6.8 tonnes for single communications satellite payloads and 5.9 tonnes for double satellite launches. It was first launched in 1996.
The Generic has been replaced by the more powerful Ariane-5 heavy-lift that can launch communications satellite payloads of up to 10 tonnes.
The heavy-lift failed during its first launch in 2002, but has since been successfully launched 10 consecutive times.
Le Gall said Arianespace now had a record backlog of 49 satellites and ATVs to launch aboard Ariane-5 rockets and would begin to launch Russian Soyuz rockets from French Guiana late in 2008 in a joint venture with Russian space companies.