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A new era in amateur radio communications was ushered in on November 16, 2000 (UTC) as AMSAT-DL Executive Vice President and P3D Mission Director Peter Guelzow, DB2OS, informed AMSAT News Service that the launch of the Phase 3D satellite from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana was successful -- following a spectacular nighttime launch.
"It was a textbook launch" said DB2OS, "from the first minute of flight, until P3D separated from the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, all received telemetry indicates the launch went perfectly and our satellite appears to be in very good health."
Launched with three other satellites - the large PAS-1R communications satellite and the smaller STVR-1C and 1D satellites, Phase 3D was placed into geostationary transfer orbit, from where it will be nudged into its final elliptical orbit.
The Ariane 5 flight proved to be a record setting mission as it marked the first use of the ASAP-5 platform. The ASAP-5 enables the launcher to carry auxiliary micro and mini satellite payloads. By coincidence, P3D was married to the PamAm 1R satellite, which was also the case when the first Ariane 4 (flight 401) rocket also launched both an AMSAT and a PanAm satellite.
On this launch, PAS-1R becomes the largest commercial satellite ever put into orbit -- and P3D the largest amateur radio satellite ever built and launched.
At liftoff the Ariane 5 launch vehicle mass was over 6,200 kg (almost 13,700 lbs)! This included the mass of the PanAmSat primary payload and the three auxiliary satellites (of which P3D was one), as well as the mass of the ASAP-5 platform and the other payload mounting and interface hardware.
AMSAT-NA President Robin Haighton, VE3FRH, welcomed the news of the launch, noting "that the design, building and financing of P3D by international volunteers is a great achievement."
Immediate AMSAT-NA past President Keith Baker, KB1SF, told ANS that he was "delighted" by the news of the Phase 3D launch. "Obviously this is a big thrill for all of us who have spent the better part of our lives over the past ten years bringing the satellite to fruition. I have no doubt that today will be regarded as one of the greatest days in the history of amateur radio."
ANS also received word from AMSAT-NA Board of Directors Chairman (and past AMSAT-NA President) Bill Tynan, W3XO. "I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to see P3D in orbit," said Tynan, "as I followed the launch sequence, I thought of the many people who have been involved with this project from the very beginning and how pleased everyone must be to see the reward of such hard work."
Although safely in orbit, there is much work to be done with Phase 3D before the satellite is opened for general amateur radio use. Initial housekeeping tasks are now underway to verify the health of the many complex systems onboard - followed by bringing these systems online. As previously noted P3D is now in a transfer orbit used for geosynchronous satellites.
To move P3D from this orbit the arcjet motor will burn intermittently (at perigee) over a 270-day period, with final inclination and apogee adjustments made by the spacecraft's 400 Newton motor. "When these maneuvers are completed and three-axis stabilization is achieved, the satellite solar panels will then be spread out to receive full sunlight," said Haighton. "It is anticipated that at this time the satellite will be fully operational for use by amateur radio operators around the world."
Stay tuned to ANS for additional bulletins from AMSAT, the official source of information on the Phase 3D satellite.
[ANS thanks AMSAT-DL and AMSAT-NA for this information]
Please send any amateur satellite news or reports to the ANS Editors at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to ANS Editor Dan James, NN0DJ, at email@example.com.
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This AMSAT News Service special bulletin was edited by AMSAT News Service editor Dan James, NN0DJ.