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Sunday March 18 10:02 PM ET Audio Satellite Launched Into Orbit

By ANDREW BRIDGES, AP Science Writer

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) – The first of a pair of digital audio broadcast satellites soared into orbit Sunday from an oceangoing platform floating on the equator.

The launch of the XM-1 satellite, nicknamed Rock, atop a Zenit-3SL rocket came at 5:33 p.m. EST from Odyssey, Sea Launch’s self-propelled platform in the equatorial Pacific, about 1,400 miles southeast of Hawaii. An earlier launch attempt of XM Satellite Radio’s other satellite, Roll, was scrubbed in January.

“We had a beautiful launch this afternoon,” said Sea Launch commentator Bob Tucker. About 75 minutes after launch, ground controllers received the first signal from the satellite, meaning it was healthy and was communicating.

Within months of the May launch of the XM-2 satellite, Washington-based XM hopes to start beaming up to 100 channels of radio programming to subscribers across the United States.

“We want to be the HBO of radio,” said Hugh Panero, XM president and chief executive officer.

The service is aimed at motorists, who will pay a $9.95 monthly fee to receive it. Specially manufactured radios will receive the satellite broadcasts. The signals will be boosted in large cities by a network of about 1,300 ground antennas.

XM and competitor Sirius Satellite Radio are banking that their services will prove popular with commuters, travelers and truckers. Each company spent more than $1 billion building their networks of satellites, antennas and broadcast facilities.

New York-based Sirius already has three satellites of its own in orbit, but is not expected to begin its service until the summer. The companies have deals with auto manufacturers to include satellite-capable radios in some models beginning this fall. XM has a deal with General Motors’ Cadillac division and Sirius is working with Ford Motor Co.

Analysts estimate XM and Sirius could have as many as 16 million subscribers by 2005, reaching about 8 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States.

“My outlook is there is a real market for this,” said Riyad Said, managing director and senior analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey Group Inc.

XM’s two satellites are the most powerful commercial satellites ever built. The Boeing Satellite Systems 702 satellites will generate 18 kilowatts of total power from geostationary orbit. Each weighs 10,287 pounds and should last 15 years.

Long Beach-based Sea Launch is an international consortium led by Boeing Co. Its partners are RSC-Energia of Russia, Anglo-Norwegian Kvaerner Group of Norway and SDO Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of Ukraine.

Sunday’s launch was the fifth success for Sea Launch in seven launch attempts, including the January scrub. A March 2000 launch of an ICO satellite failed.

“We kind of stubbed our toe in January, but I knew we’d recover,” said Sea Launch President Will Trafton in comments broadcast over the Internet.

Sea Launch has a backlog of 16 launches through 2005, but hopes to ramp up to as many as eight launches a year. Although the global market for rockets is slowing, Sea Launch could capture a significant amount of business, an analyst said.

“The timing is about right for that vehicle,” said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst for the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va. “I don’t see anything that would stand in their way.”

Sea Launch launches from the equator, where the Earth spins fastest, in order to give its rockets a boost to orbit.

– On the Internet:

Sea Launch Co.: http://www.sea-launch.com

XM Satellite Radio Inc.: http://www.xmradio.com

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