Page last updated at 10:29 GMT, Saturday, 19 April 2008 11:29 UK

Dedicated satellite for Vietnam

Ariane launch (AFP)
The Ariane 5 launches from the Guianese Space Centre in Kourou

Vietnam has taken a major step into the space age with the launch of its first telecommunications satellite.

The VINASAT-1 was put into orbit by an Ariane 5 rocket, flying from Europe's Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

The spacecraft is part of a government strategy to help improve access to TV and telephony services for Vietnam's rural population.

Ariane also lofted the Star One C2, a telecommunications satellite for Brazil, on the same flight.

The 2,600kg VINASAT-1 was built by US manufacturer Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems for Vietnam's Post & Telecommunications Group (VNPT).

VNPT's director, Long Tran Pham, told Reuters: "More than 70% of our country consists of forests and mountains so it is very important to have satellites to deliver telecommunications to populations living in these zones.

"People already receive television by other satellites that we lease, but now we have our own satellite."

VINASAT-1 will sit 36,000km above the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border. Its "footprint" will span parts of Japan, Australia and Burma.

It is hoped some of the spare capacity on the spacecraft can be sold to neighbouring countries.

Quoted by AFP, VNPT vice president, Lam Hoang Vinh, said: "Other countries, like Thailand and Singapore, have already contacted us."

Friday's launch was the second of the year for an Ariane 5, following the despatch of the "Jules Verne" freighter to the International Space Station in March.

A further five Ariane 5 flights are expected this year.

Highlights in the schedule include the launch of the European Space Agency's Planck and Herschel orbiting telescopes; and the TerreStar-1 platform, which, at 6,700kg, will be one of the biggest commercial telecom satellites ever put in space.

Next up for an Ariane 5 is the British Skynet 5C platform. The satellite is part of the UK military's 3.6bn ($7.2bn) next-generation space communications system.

It will ride into orbit with a Turkish satellite.

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