GROUP TO LAUNCH RESCUED SATELLITE FOR USE IN ASIA

GROUP TO LAUNCH RESCUED SATELLITE FOR USE IN ASIA

The second of two wayward satellites rescued by space shuttle astronauts three years ago is space-bound again.

A consortium of Chinese, British and Hong Kong companies Wednesday announced plans to buy the Westar VI satellite that was salvaged from space and to relaunch it for use in Asia.The other satellite retrieved by the shuttle in January 1985 - the Palapa B2 - is also set for relaunching. Earlier this month, Sattel Technologies Inc. in Van Nuys, Calif., completed an agreement with McDonnell Douglas to relaunch the bird for its new owners, the government of Indonesia.

Palapa B2 and Westar VI were both deployed by the shuttle Challenger in February 1984. The satellites experienced identical rocket failures that placed them in useless low orbits about the earth. A year later, they were recovered in a dramatic rescue mission by the shuttle Discovery.

Both birds became property of their insurers following failure in space. Underwriters paid approximately $77 million to the government of Indonesia for the loss of the Palapa B2 and $105 million to Western Union for the Westar VI.

To recoup a portion of the losses, the insurers paid the National Aeronautics and Space Administration $5.5 million to have Discovery recover the satellites. An additional $5 million was paid to Hughes Aircraft Co., the satellite's manufacturers, to store and repair the satellites once returned to Earth.

Westar VI will play a role in the first domestic telecommunications satellite venture designed to cover a wide area of Asia.

To be rechristened Asiasat I, it will have an in-orbit cost of about $120 million, the partners told a press conference Wednesday in Hong Kong. Stephen Merrett, chairman of Merrett Holdings PLC, Lloyd's of London satellite underwriters and the principal owner of Westar VI, could not be reached for comment.

The new owners of the bird are Hutchison Telecommunications Ltd., a unit of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.; Cable & Wireless PLC, and Citic Technology Corp., an arm of China International Trust & Investment Corp.

Asiasat I will be launched by a Chinese-made Long March rocket early in 1989, according to Hutchison Satellite officials.

As planned, the satellite will be repaired by Hughes. It is thought to have a useful life of about eight more years.

Westar VI will be able to provide telecommunications of all sorts in an area bounded roughly by India to the west, the northeastern coast of China and Thailand to the south.

Asian countries' stake in this undertaking cannot be overestimated, since it will allow provision of telecommunications services in areas where use of land-based systems has been physically difficult, the consortium says.

We expect increased use of telephone, television and data communications, but there are other uses - for example, newspaper copy transmitted for production in remote areas.

Richard Siemens, managing director of Hutchison Telecommunications, foresees a host of new and cost-effective services including direct satellite broadcast to homes, intelligent networks, reservation systems for hotels and airlines, and dedicated corporate communications.

The system will reinforce Hong Kong's role as the communications center of the region well into the next century, he said.

Details of financing weren't disclosed, though the partners will each have an equal stake. Outside sources say the whole venture is likely to cost HK$1.1 billion (US$140 million).

Simon Murray, managing director of the large trading and transportation group Hutchison Whampoa, concedes the project will cost a lot to get up and working, but it's like investing in real estate - income can be generated during the life of the property. He estimates it could turn a profit in four years.

Of the other partners, Cable & Wireless operates Hong Kong's main telecommunications and Citic is a broad-based Chinese entity active in scouting for joint ventures. Hutchison is already engaged in mobile telephones and paging services.