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A major satellite operator in Beijing announced yesterday that it ordered a Chinese-made satellite to be launched in 2005 to meet mounting domestic demands for communications and broadcasting.

With all the Ku-band transponders on its current satellite to be leased out soon, Sino Satellite Communications Corp (Sinosat) signed a contract to buy a satellite from the Chinese Academy of Space Technology so as to sustain its business and even expand, Sinosat President Cheng Guangren said.

The move signals that the country's satellite operators are readying themselves for a new market surge for remote learning, live broadcasting and broadband Internet access.

The "Satellites have irreplaceable advantages in these fields," said Guo Weiguang, a China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC) official.

The demand is fuelled by China's economic development and people's improving living standards, some industry experts said.

Guo said more satellite transponders will be needed in China in the next few years.

Today, nearly 100 transponders are in service for Chinese customers, he said.

Just last week, Hong Kong Satellite Technology Holdings Ltd signed a contract with CASC and an Israeli satellite manufacturer to make and launch two satellites for the special administrative region in 2004 and 2006, which will serve the Asian market, including China.

Other domestic satellite operators, like China Telecommunications Broadcasting Satellite Corp, also have plans to add new satellites, Guo said.

Cheng said Sinosat's new satellite will be based on China's latest satellite platform - Dongfanghong-IV, which CASC is developing. A satellite platform is the chassis or framework that carries a satellite's payload.

With a designed life span of 15 years, the satellite will carry 24 Ku-band transponders, each 150 watts in power output, Cheng said.

The new satellite will be used to shore up the company's next phase of development, he said.

Founded in 1994, Sinosat is the only operator in China that owns a European-manufactured satellite - Sinosat-1. It was manufactured by Aerospatiale (France) with 24 C-band and 14 Ku-band transponders and was delivered into orbit atop a Chinese LM-3B rocket in 1998.

Sinosat-1 is going well above Earth, he said. It has leased 12 of its Ku-band transponders so far, and it's a primary carrier for China's satellite TV programming (43 channels), Cheng said.

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