After 5-Year Delay, Satellite Finally Flies

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A REFURBISHED $40 million communications satellite that was bumped from NASA's space shuttle and mothballed after the 1986 Challenger disaster was finally boosted into orbit Friday by an unmanned Delta 2 rocket. The slender 125-foot Delta 2 flashed to life at 8:09 p.m. EDT -- an hour and 32 minutes late because of high winds. The $45 million commercially built rocket was bought by GTE Spacenet Corporation of McLean, Va., to carry the company's ninth communications satellite into orbit,

The Delta 2 performed flawlessly and the 1,629-pound satellite, built by GE Astro-Space Division of Princeton, N.J., was released into its planned preliminary orbit about 30 minutes after liftoff. A smaller on-board rocket was scheduled to fire later to boost the spacecraft into a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the equator, where virtually all communications satellites operate.

Troy Ellington, vice president of engineering and development for GTE Spacenet, said the satellite will provide additional telecommunications capacity for business users, news organizations, and other commercial interests. A major segment of GTE Spacenet's customer base includes news organizations. Despite the recession and cutbacks in the media industry, Ellington said demand for satellite service continues to rise.

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