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Danish and South African Satellites Put Into Orbit

February 24, 1999| From Associated Press

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The first satellites built by South Africa and Denmark were launched into orbit Tuesday, along with a big U.S. defense research satellite.

A long period without contact caused anxious hours for the builders of South Africa's Sunsat, but communication was finally established. The U.S. Argos and the Danish Orsted satellites were doing well, officials said.

The satellites went up on a Delta II rocket at 2:29 a.m. after 11 delays in recent weeks.

Within an hour of launch, the Air Force's Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite, or Argos, was released. Sunsat and Orsted were released 41 minutes later. All three were in near-polar orbit 334 to 459 miles above Earth.

Sunsat was created by engineering students in South Africa, primarily to show that they could do it. Orsted will map Earth's magnetic field. Argos will conduct research on military and space technology.

Although small, the 130-pound satellite from South Africa and the 136-pound one from Denmark represent those nations' entry into the club of space-faring countries. Argos, by contrast, weighs 3 tons and is loaded down with research gear.

Sunsat was also symbolic of South Africa's return to collaboration with the international science community after being isolated during the apartheid era.

The many launch delays were frustrating. Most were due to weather, but one was due to a problem with the Delta that stopped a launch attempt at the last second.

"It is of course an enormous relief," Jens Langeland-Knudsen, the Danish chief coordinator, said after the launch.

"Two or three delays would have been acceptable as part of the suspense, but 11? That's too many," he said.

The delays were a source of jokes in Denmark. On Danish postal stamps, however, the satellite has been circling Earth since January.

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