XM Radio Successfully Launches Satellite

After enduring frustrating delays, XM Satellite Radio announced the successful launch last week of its first satellite, which the company has named Rock. XM reports that lift-off occurred off the Sea Launch Odyssey Launch Platform in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean on the equator, and that the first signals from the satellite were captured by a ground station in Australia a little over an hour later, as planned.

The launched satellite is the first of three 702 models built by Boeing Satellite Systems, with its 10,284 lb. (4666 kg) payload lifted to geosynchronous transfer orbit by a 200-foot Russian and Ukrainian Zenit-3SL rocket. Boeing says that the 702, designed for a 15-year lifespan, will generate 18 kilowatts of total power at the beginning of its life in orbit and uses the xenon ion propulsion system (XIPS) for all on-orbit maneuvering. The second satellite, Roll, is planned to launch in early May, also from Sea Launch's platform in the Pacific, with a third satellite intended as a backup. Once aloft, Rock and Roll will both operate in geostationary orbit above the United States.

Testing uncharted digital territory, XM, along with rival Sirius, hopes to transform radio, an industry that has seen little technological change since FM was established, almost 40 years ago. XM says it intends to create and package up to 100 channels of digital audio and provide coast-to-coast coverage of music, news, sports, talk, comedy, and children's programming, with service slated to begin this summer.

Both XM and Sirius have spent more than $1 billion getting their systems ready for consumers, who will be reached primarily via special radios installed in automobiles. XM says that its service will cost $9.95 per month and that its signal will be boosted in large cities via 1300 ground antennas. Some analysts are guessing that the two companies could have as many as 16 million subscribers by 2005, which represents about 8% of cars in the US.

Sea Launch's Will Trafton says his company is pleased with the launch and that "preliminary injection data indicates that the spacecraft was inserted precisely into GTO with an injection accuracy of 22 meters high in perigee and 26.3 kilometers in apogee. In the space business, that's a bull's-eye!" XM's Hugh Panero adds that "we now have a satellite in the sky, XM-ready radios on retail shelves, our chipsets in production, and our broadcast studio humming. First there was AM, then FM, and now XM. Radio will never be the same—we want to be the HBO of radio."