KOUROU, French Guiana, Oct. 14, 2006/Satnews Daily/ ― Arianespace maintained its 2006 mission pace with a successful Ariane 5 flight on Friday placing two primary satellites into geostationary transfer orbit.

Ariane 5 climbs away from the Spaceport's ELA-3 launch zone on its evening flight. (Arianespace/CNES photo)

After an on-time liftoff from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, the Ariane 5 went on to deploy DirecTV 9S for U.S. digital TV service provider DirecTV, along with the Optus D1 telecommunications spacecraft for Australia's Optus.

Friday’s launch occurred at 5:56 p.m. local time, providing a rare daytime view of the Ariane 5's ascent - as most missions occur after sunset. As it climbed into clear skies, the vehicle's trajectory was followed downrange by tracking cameras, providing an excellent view of its progress - including the jettison of its solid propellant boosters.

It was Arianespace's fourth dual-satellite Ariane 5 mission of 2006, bringing the total payload mass delivered by the workhorse launcher so far during this year to more than 31,670 kg. Overall, Ariane vehicles have orbited a combined total payload mass of over 600 metric tons.

DirecTV 9S weighed in at approximately 5,535 kg., for the Friday mission. It was the sixth satellite to be launched by Arianespace for DirecTV, Inc., the leading provider of digital multi-channel television service in the United States. The broadcast platform was built by U.S. satellite manufacturer Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California. To date, a total of 32 Space Systems/Loral satellites have been booked with Arianespace, of which 31 have now been launched.

Optus D1 was released as the second payload in Ariane 5's mission sequence. This 2,350 kg. spacecraft is to provide fixed communications and broadcasting satellite services over Australia and New Zealand for Australia's Optus. The satellite was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, and is based on the company's successful STAR series of smaller-sized spacecraft.

Riding as a piggyback payload on the mission was Japan's LDREX-2, which is designed to validate the deployment process for a large, lightweight antenna reflector that will be used on Japan's ETS-8 engineering test satellite. Mounted to the base of Ariane 5's payload "stack," LDREX-2 was to be commanded through its unfurling sequence after the release of DirecTV 9S and Optus D1.

Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall also announced the next Ariane 5 mission for early December. As with the other launches in 2006, it will carry two main satellite passengers.

Le Gall also confirmed October 17 as the date for a commercial Soyuz launch by Arianespace affiliate Starsem, which will orbit MetOp-A – Europe's first polar-orbiting satellite dedicated to operational meteorology. The Soyuz mission will be conducted from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome.