The Washington Times / August 19, 1997
By Larry Luxner
KOUROU, French Guiana -- A four-way venture involving Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and two of Latin America's biggest media conglomerates hopes to bring direct-to-home satellite broadcasting to millions of TV viewers south of the Rio Grande.
In the wee hours of Aug. 8, executives from Arianespace, PanAmSat Corp. and several other multinationals swatted mosquitoes as they watched as an Ariane 44P rocket fitted with four solid-propellant boosters lift off from its launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, flawlessly carrying into orbit PanAmSat's PAS-6 satellite. The bird, manufactured by Space Systems/Loral, is capable of delivering more than 360 digital TV channels via transponders leased by the venture, known as Sky Latin America.
"This satellite is dedicated to a direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting project for South America that's been in the works for three or four years," says Fred Landman, PanAmSat's president and chief executive officer. "DTH overall is playing an increasingly large role in Latin America."
In addition to News Corp., the venture includes Brazil's TV Globo and Mexico's Televisa, the world's largest Spanish-language media company; each of the three companies has a 30% share. A fourth conglomerate, TCI International, has a 10% stake.
The launch marked the 27th consecutive successful launch for an Ariane-4 rocket, and further consolidates Arianespace's hold on the satellite-launching market, despite the explosion of an Ariane-5 rocket seconds after takeoff on its maiden voyage in June 1996.
"Beyond this success and the numbers which speak eloquently of the performance of the Ariane system," said Arianespace CEO Jean-Marie Luton, "this outcome testifies to the tremendous work of teams, both in Europe and here in Kourou, dedicated to the consolidation of the leadership of the European launcher in the global market, as well as to its preparation for space transportation for the 21st century."
Doug Heydon, president of Arianespace Inc. in Washington, estimates that launches at Kourou cost anywhere from $40 million to $140 million, depending on the size of the satellite. Landman said PanAmSat could have launched PAS-6 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, but that the Connecticut-based company chose French Guiana because of "the availability of Arianespace, and the fact that it delivers on time and with a high degree of reliability."
PanAmSat already operates the PAS-1 and PAS-3 Atlantic Ocean Region satellites, which deliver dozens of TV channels to more than 13 million cable households in Latin America.
PAS-6 is the 10th satellite entrusted to Arianespace by PanAmSat (five PanAmSat spacecraft for international services and five Galaxy satellites for the U.S. market). The next launch, Flight 99, is set for Sept. 2, when an Ariane 44L launch vehicle is set to place two European satellites in orbit.
Heydon, whose company has 45 satellites on order to be launched, says he doesn't see any imminent threat to French Guiana's current political status.
"It's an overseas department, and it's as integrated into France as it can possibly be, so unless there's a [significant] separatist movement, I can't think of any changes that would affect us," he said. "Of course, we're concerned when there are job actions or strikes that affect the operation of the launch center, but that's true whether they're occurring in French Guiana or the United States."