DirecTV Shoots HD Satellite Into Space

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In a step crucial to backing up its core marketing campaign, DirecTV said a satellite capable of carrying 100 HD channels successfully launched into orbit Saturday from Kazakhstan.

The direct-broadcast satellite operator said the Boeing 702-model DirecTV 10 satellite lifted off at 6:16 p.m. (PST) Friday from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The launch comes after a rocket exploded in January on Boeing’s floating Sea Launch platform in the Pacific Ocean -- the same platform DirecTV was expecting to use to launch the DirecTV 11 satellite this year -- dealing DirecTV's HDTV strategy a potentially severe setback.

DirecTV 10’s safe liftoff paves the way for the operator’s plans to deliver 100 national HD channels by the end of 2007. The company also claimed that the satellite will let it expand local HD channels to as many as 75 markets.

The company said DirecTV 11 will be launched sometime early next year. Between the two satellites, DirecTV said, it will be able to deliver more than 1,500 local HD channels and 150 national HD channels.

DirecTV’s claimed HD advantage has been central to an aggressive marketing campaign targeted toward cable promising a “future” of up to 150 HD channels.

Cable operators have fought back, with both lawsuits and comparative ads of their own. Time Warner Cable's false-advertising lawsuit prompted by DirecTV’s HD-oriented spots is pending. Meanwhile, Comcast has been sued by the DBS operator over ads that said consumers prefer Comcast's HD picture to satellite.

DirecTV announced the HD-expansion strategy in January, citing networks that didn’t exist yet. Since then, it has signed agreements to roll out HD channels from programmers including Disney, Discovery Communications, A&E Television Networks, HBO, Fox, Turner Broadcasting System, NBC Universal, Showtime Networks, Starz Entertainment and Scripps Networks.

DirecTV 10, originally slated to launch in June, is expected to begin operations in early September.

“With the successful launch of our DirecTV 10 satellite, we are, to borrow a phrase, boldly going where no TV service has gone before -- a new world of up to 100 HD channels and a viewing experience unmatched in the multichannel-video marketplace,” DirecTV executive vice president of content development and strategy Derek Chang said in a statement released Saturday.

DirecTV 10 is the company's third satellite launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, the oldest space-launch facility in the world. The Russian-built Proton Breeze M rocket carrying DirecTV 10 spent about nine hours in flight, then left the satellite in a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a high point of 22,300 miles above the equator.

According to DirecTV, engineers at a ground station in Hartebeesthoek, South Africa, have made contact with the satellite and confirmed that all systems are functioning properly. The spacecraft will be maneuvered into a circular orbit at 103 degrees west longitude.

Last month, Boeing’s Sea Launch unit said an investigation into the January explosion on the launch platform concluded that the failure occurred in the “liquid oxygen (LOx) turbopump section” of the rocket’s main engine.

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