New African telecommunications satellite safely in orbit

26th April 2011 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Africa’s newest telecommunications satellite, Intelsat New Dawn, is now safely in orbit following its launch on Good Friday from French Guiana by European commercial launch services company Arianespace.

The satellite will operate from a geostationary orbit at 32,8 ˚ East and it carries 28 C-band and 24 Ku-Band 36 megaHerz transponder units. It will cover the whole of Africa, much of Europe, some of the Middle East and Pakistan.

It is the first communications satellite that is predominantly owned by the African private sector and it is a joint venture between Intelsat and an African consortium led by South Africa’s Convergence Partners.

Intelsat New Dawn was one of two satellites carried aboard an Ariane 5 ECA rocket (the other payload was also a telecommunications satellite, Yahsat Y1A, for a company in the United Arab Emirates), which lifted off at 18:37 local time from the Kourou spaceport.

The rocket’s two solid fuel boosters separated at an altitude of 66,5 km and the payload fairing was jettisoned at 105 km. Yahsat Y1A was the upper payload and was released by the rocket 27 minutes after lift off, followed by New Dawn, released 35 minutes after lift off.

The launch was originally scheduled for March 30, but was scrubbed just seconds before lift off when an onboard computer detected an abnormal parameter in the Ariane rocket during the automated checkout which followed the ignition of the main, liquid fuelled engine.

The engine was automatically shut down and the launch rocket was subsequently returned to the Final Assembly Building for examination. Following a successful checkout, the rocket was prepared for its second launch attempt and returned to the launchpad.

Intelsat New Dawn is intended to meet the rapidly growing demand in Africa – the continent’s market for satellite communications services had been growing at an average rate of 7% annually for the past four years.

Indeed, Africa was the fastest growing region in the world for Intelsat during for 2008 and 2009, and the continent’s business is now worth some $400-million a year to the global group.

Customers already signed up for New Dawn include Vodacom, Telecom Namibia and Bharti Airtel, and most of the satellite’s capacity has already been sold.

New Dawn has been funded with a mixture of equity (15%) and debt (85%). Of the equity, 74,9% is held by Intelsat and 25,1% by a consortium headed by Convergence Partners, which includes Altirah Telecoms and the not-for-profit Convergence Partners Foundation.

Regarding the debt, 10% of the financing comes from Intelsat and 90% from African institutions, including Nedbank, the African Development Bank and South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation.