Another One Bites the Dust

PanAmSat's failed launch sets the stage for a possible shakeup in the satellite industry

PanAmSat's goal of providing the first direct-to-home television programming in Latin America suffered a blow last week with the loss of its PAS 3 satellite. And the launch failure has sparked rumors that another satellite firm may try to steal PanAmSat customers.

But despite its setback, the Connecticut-based company says it will still be able to provide global communications by 1995.

On Dec. 1 an Ariane launch vehicle carried the 3,000-pound satellite into the sky, but the rocket never gathered enough speed to deliver its cargo. The satellite and launcher burned up as they fell back to earth.

It was a $214 million loss for PanAmSat's insurers, industry sources said.

Having PAS 3 in a geostationary orbit 23,000 miles above the Atlantic Ocean would have allowed PanAmSat to be the first to offer Latin Americans direct-to-home television services. Now it's possible Intelsat or other firms could rearrange their satellite services and move in on this market.

Intelsat spokesman Tony Trujillo said his company has no plans to provide direct-to-home television programming in this region, but admits that it would be possible for them to provide services in Latin America without launching a new satellite.

Elizabeth Dickins, a PanAmSat spokeswoman, said her firm is relying on their customers' good faith to stay with them and not seek out another service provider. In addition to direct-to-home services in Latin America, with PAS 3 the company planned to provide program distribution and data communications for cable companies and business networks in North America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. PanAmSat's customers include Turner Broadcasting, Home Box Office, and MTV.

But PanAmSat's long-term goal of offering the first private global satellite system by the middle of 1995 is still possible, Dickins said. PanAmSat, which showed revenues of $50 million last year, already has two satellites providing communications services.

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