October 20, 2011

ViaSat-1 Launch Trip: Blast Off!

Congratulations!  The ViaSat-1 satellite successfully launched at 12:48 AM Baikonur time on Thursday, October 20.  This marks the completion of a major milestone in our plan to reinvent onboard connectivity for our customers by providing a robust and reliable product experience.

We did it!

Before I give you the brief synopsis of the events leading up to the launch, let’s get to the good stuff: blast off.  Moments before the big event, the launch team assembled on the deck of the Proton Club, a viewing spot a few kilometers away from the launch pad.  With the live feed playing in the background, everyone got very silent as the countdown clock struck zero.

Almost immediately, we saw an amazing flash of light which suddenly lit up the pitch black skies of Kazakhstan.  However, the silence remained as we could not hear a sound!  It was not until the glowing satellite was up toward the stars before we heard a loud blast which rumbled through the few surrounding buildings on the base.  Certainly, the satellite was traveling much faster than the speed of sound.

The photos below show the first few seconds of the launch.  For those who were not able to see the launch live, a recap has been posted by International Launch Services (ILS) here.

It was a tremendous experience to be there in person.  Getting the ViaSat-1 satellite to this point had been the life’s work of so many people for the past three years that it became quite emotional.  Many showed signs of relief, a few shed tears of joy, and everyone cheered in excitement.  The JetBlue team was nothing but grateful for everyone’s hard work.

Baikonur: a city of history

Although we came to Baikonur for the main event, there was more to it than just the big launch.  We had an opportunity to spend some time in town before and after the launch which gave us an interesting look at this land in the middle of Kazakhstan with a rich Russian history.  This was a surprise to us since there wasn’t much to see during our initial approach (below)!

The entire city is focused on the Russian space program and the Cosmodrome.  In fact, the city of Baikonur’s population would be a faction of what it is today without its frequent rocket launches.  Even the flag on the administrative building honors the town’s core competency:

We also had a chance to visit the Baikonur Space Museum.  Highlights included a close-up view of what it was like to be part of the first manned space excursions, the vast array of Russian space food (none of which looked appealing), and learning that JetBlue already has ties to the Cosmodrome – both the DIRECTV and Sirius/XM satellites were launched from Baikonur!

However, the biggest treat was being able to sit inside the cockpit of the original Russian space shuttle.  Pictured below is Collin Wolfe peering inside while your blogger sits behind the controls.

Mission: accomplished

If you’ve been following along with the mission overview, you’ll see that we’ve made great progress since the launch.  The latest status as of 9:00 AM eastern time on Thursday, October 20:

  • Nine hours and 12 minutes after blast off, the launch vehicle released the ViaSat-1 satellite into its geostationary transfer orbit
  • The gyros were activated and thrusters were tested
  • The satellite was prepared for sun acquisition and all solar panels have unfolded

While there is still a sequence of events before ViaSat-1 is in its final stages, most of the risk is behind us and we’re ready to call the launch a success!  This makes for a very happy launch team.  Rear, left to right: Daymien Villasenor, Chris Hoeber (Senior Vice President, Program Management & Systems Engineering at Loral Space Systems), Robyn Larson, Mark Dankberg (Chief Executive Officer of ViaSat), Collin Wolfe, Rachel McCarthy.  Front, perched awkwardly in front because he’s too tall for group shots: your blogger, Don Uselmann.

We’ve enjoyed sharing our experience with you and thank you for reading.  This is our final update and we’ll see you in the States!

Don Uselmann

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