Corks pop as satellite blasts off into space

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AFTER eight years of hard work and dedication from a team of top-flight engineers in Portsmouth, it took just 33 minutes for the most sophisticated communications satellite ever built to reach its orbit around the Earth.

At precisely 8.54pm tonight, around 120 members of Astrium staff and their families gathered at the firm’s Portsmouth base to watch the launch, streamed live from French Guyana.

Ariane 5 Rocket, built by Astrium, prepares to carry the Alphasat into space

Ariane 5 Rocket, built by Astrium, prepares to carry the Alphasat into space

The satellite is so sophisticated that it can point 400 spot beams towards the Earth in order to provide better mobile phone coverage. Satellites currently in space can only point 212 beams.

It means that scientists working in remote Antarctic research stations will be able to communicate with the outside world easily, as well as boosting coverage for the rest of the globe.

The team in Portsmouth designed the microprocessors which make the satellite work, as well as other so-called ‘equipments’ to keep it in orbit and allow it to function for an anticipated 20 years or more.

The Champagne corks popped as the satellite successfully passed the first phase of launch and left the Earth’s atmosphere.

James Hinds, head of payload for Astrium in Portsmouth, said: ‘The launch was brilliant. It’s a summer’s evening, we’ve got family and friends here, it’s a reasonable time of day, and it’s been a successful launch.

‘There’s still work to do to ensure the equipments are working properly.

‘It’s been such a long day and there’s a real tear in the eye. Words can’t really explain it.’

Design engineer John Ireland, 39, worked on the satellite for eight years or, as he puts it, 20 per cent of my life’.

He said: ‘I’ve worked on this through every stage, from designing the processors, the tiny microchips which make it work, right through to how it will work in space.

‘It has been a huge relief to see it launch, and yes there has been a bit of a tear in my eye.

‘I’m very proud.’