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    MOSCOW, March 16, 2004. (RIA Novosti correspondent Alexander Kovalev) - A Russian Proton-M launch vehicle lifted off from the Baikonur launching site tonight, subsequently orbiting the W-3-A European communications satellite at 11.16 a.m. Moscow time. The W-3-A is one of the most sophisticated and expensive European communications satellites.

    The W-3-A costs about Euro 250 million. This is a very expensive spacecraft; its insurance costs are particularly high because the new-generation W-3-A has never been launched before, International Launch Services (ILS) executive vice-president Leonard (Len) Dest said.

    The ILS joint venture comprises Lockheed-Martin of the United States, as well as its Russian partners, i.e. the Khrunichev spacecraft center and the Energia space-rocket corporation.

    This satellite belongs to the Eutelsat company of France. As of today, the W-3-A is the largest and most sophisticated satellite among other Eutelsat spacecraft catering to such big-league clients as Volkswagen and the Italian civil-aviation administration, Eutelsat managing director Julian Beretta said.

    In his words, the W-3-A's throughput capacity exceeds that of previous satellite types by 100 percent. The W-3-A has 38 Ku-range transponders, as well as two Ka-range transponders.

    The W-3-A communications satellite, which was assembled by the Astrium company, will relay live TV broadcasts, also providing direct Internet access for private clients. The W-3-A, which features the state-of-the-art Eurostar-3000 platform, will cover Europe, the Middle East, North-East Africa and Turkey.

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