Heaviest ever telecom satellite reaches orbit

A Thai-owned communications satellite was launched early Thursday off French Guiana, officials said. Billed as the world's largest, the satellite will provide Internet access and multimedia services for the Asia-Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand.

The launch of the satellite was set for 6:39 GMT Thursday (2:39 a.m. ET), but was more than an hour and a half late after the countdown was halted at the 7-minute mark.

The Web site of Arianespace, the company that conducted the launch, said the delay was called during the two-hour launch window to verify telemetry readings from the Ariane 5 launcher.

The satellite, called Thaicom 4, will be operated by Shin Satellite, a company owned by the family of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and is the fourth satellite launched by the company. It weighs more than 7 tons and cost $400 million, and was built by Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California, informs CNN.

According to BBC, the European company, Arianespace, currently dominates the satellite launch business globally with its Ariane 5-Generic rockets, which can deliver about six tones to a GTO.

Communications satellites tend to travel at 36,000km GTOs around the Equator to match Earth's rotation so they have "fixed" locations to send steady signals.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites take polar orbits for better views of Earth. LEOs are often used for navigation and scientific research.

Arianespace's family of launchers also includes the Ariane 5-ECA craft, a beefed-up version of the Ariane 5-Generic, capable of lifting much heavier loads into space.

The Thaicom 4 satellite will provide net and telecoms services across Asia The ECA can substantially reduce the costs of launching spacecraft from between $30-40,000 a kg to $15-20,000 a kg.

This is because the rocket can deliver several satellites at once, taking a maximum of 10 tones into a GTO.

The ECA, considered to be the "workhorse" for Europe's launchers industry, last launched in February, carrying an eight-tone payload into space.

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