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Huge comms satellite ready for lift-off

Six tonnes of broadband-delivering kit

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The Ariane 5 rocket is set to blast off early tomorrow morning, and will carry the biggest ever commercial telecoms satellite into orbit.

The Ariane 5's Anik F2 payloadThe 5,950 kg Anik F2 satellite is set to launch at 00:43GMT, from French Guiana. Once it is in its geo-stationary orbit it will provide broadband Net access, distance learning and online health services to the North American continent.

The Anik F2 satellite will take up position in its orbital slot at 111.1 degrees West longitude. It is the seventh Boeing 702 satellite delivered since Galaxy XI, the first, went up in 1999. You can check out all its specifications here.

The Arianespace team got the go ahead for the launch on Friday last week, after the launcher, its payload and the network of treacking stations that will follow the launch were all signed off as ready.

This is the rocket's first launch since March this year, and the 19th flight overall. The rockets were grounded during 2003 following a catastophic failure during a launch in late 2002. The rocket went off course shortly after takeoff, and auto-destructed four minutes into its flight.

Ariane 4 was retired last year, meaning that Ariane 5 is now the only rocket launcher Arianespace has left in service. The company is working on a smaller rocket, called Vega, for lighter launch payloads. ®

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