Third Sirius Digital Radio Satellite Launched Successfully

The Sirius Satellite Radio constellation will soon be in position, thanks to the successful launch November 30 of Sirius-3, the third satellite in the Sirius system. The transponders are being arrayed in geosynchronous orbits above North America for maximum radio coverage, which will begin in 2001. The previous two satellites were launched last summer and in early autumn.

Within a few weeks, Sirius will begin beaming "CD-quality" digital radio signals to US motorists with satellite receivers installed in their vehicles. Eventually as many as 100 channels will be available for a monthly subscription fee of $9.95. Half of the stations will offer music; the other half will feature news, sports, comedy, talk shows and children's programming. The programming is being developed specifically for Sirius and will not be available on other commercial stations, according to company executives.

Sirius has signed deals with Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, Mazda, Jaguar, and Volvo, as well as heavy truck makers Freightliner and Sterling, all of whom will install recently developed three-band (AM/FM/SAT) radio receivers as optional equipment in new vehicles. Satellite receivers from several major manufacturers will be available not only as equipment in new vehicles but as aftermarket products as well.

The Sirius-3 transponder, designed and built by Space Systems/Loral was carried aloft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by a Proton/Block DM rocket. The launch was organized and managed by International Launch Services, which has produced all Sirius launches.

Space Systems/Loral built all three Sirius satellites, each with an expected 15-year usable lifespan. The satellites maintain their positions using bipropellant propulsion and momentum-bias stabilization, according to SS/L. They are powered by an array of solar cells and rechargeable batteries. SS/L claims its satellites have "accumulated nearly 800 years of reliable on-orbit service."

Competing service XM Satellite Radio plans to begin transmissions by summer 2001, after launching its satellites next month.

Curiously, the price of Sirius stock dropped 15% to close at $27.38/share the day after the successful launch, because of a downgrade from "outperform" to "neutral" by a Salomon Smith Barney analyst. On the same day, December 1, XM Radio's share price jumped 14% to close at $15/share.