We have lift-off! Stevenage-produced Airbus satellite Telstar 12 Vantage blasts into space

Hang on, that's not Gunnels Wood Road: Telstar was launched from this site in Japan, while staff fro

Hang on, that's not Gunnels Wood Road: Telstar was launched from this site in Japan, while staff from Stevenage tuned in. - Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

Rocket scientists in Stevenage were celebrating on Tuesday morning as their latest satellite launch, one of four across the world in just five weeks, was successful.

All our own work: checking that the Telstar is ready to fly.

All our own work: checking that the Telstar is ready to fly. - Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

The Telstar 12 Vantage satellite, built by Stevenage-based Airbus Defence and Space for Canadian satellite operator Telesat, launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at about 6.50am UK time on Tuesday.

Take-off was delayed for about half an hour when a boat entered the range, but the satellite launched without issues on a Japanese H-IIA rocket. Engineers watching back in Stevenage broke into cheers at 11.20am as they saw their satellite separate from the rocket.

“The separation itself is probably one of the most dangerous or risky parts of the mission,” said Keith Ellis, the head of mechanised plaforms at the Stevenage site.

“We usually do four or five of this type of launch in a year, so to do that number is just five weeks is really quite exceptional. In this five-week period we’re launching from South America, from Kazakhstan and from Japan – multiple teams in different parts of the world launching satellites very close together.

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“Tanegashima is a launch site we’ve never used before, so that’s a first for us. There was a team of six from Stevenage out there for the last few weeks fuelling the satellite for the launch. The final weight is 4.8 tonnes, with enough fuel on board for at least 15 years. They can last a lot longer – 18, 20, 25 years. Once it was all ready the team flew home and watched it on the TV with the rest of us.

The rocket shortly before launch.

The rocket shortly before launch. - Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

“There is another team out there that dealt with the actual positioning of the satellite onto the rocket and ensures all the monitoring is done right up to and beyond the launch itself.” Telstar 12V will serve broadcast, corporate and government users in the Americas and maritime zones in and around the Atlantic and the North Sea for at least 15 years.

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Airbus also built the Saudi Arabian-commissioned ARABSAT-6B (BADR-7) satellite. which took off from Kourou in French Guiana on November 10, and the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder probe, which is scheduled to launch from the same site on December 2. The Express AMU1 satellite, constructed by Airbus for a Russian operator, is due to take off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on December 23.

“To have a thriving space industry here in Stevenage, in Herts, is fantastic,” Mr Ellis said.

“Everyone who works here is always immensely proud that this is the 102nd geostationary satellite that we’ve put in orbit since the company began in the 1980s. It may be number 102, but it’s just as exciting as number one.

“We’re absolutely at the heart of it. Here in Stevenage we manufacture the main structure and propulsion system for every one of those Eurostar satellites that goes up that provides our TV and our broadband and our mobile coverage.”

“The future’s always changing, especially in the word of telecommunications – TV is changing all the time. We’re just getting used to high definition, but now we’ve got ultra-high definition.

“Space is basically always that one giant leap ahead of whatever technology comes along. There is always another step to be taken.”

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