New EchoStar Bird Can Fly

No "launch anomalies" to fret over this time.

That sigh you heard late last night might have been a collective one emanating from Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) after its latest satellite, EchoStar XI, was successfully launched from Sea Launch Co. LLC 's Equator-based Odyssey platform. (See EchoStar XI Reaches Orbit.)

Up, up, and away!

EchoStar XI -- which has an expected "orbital service life" of 15 years and operates from an orbital position of 110 degrees West Longitude –- will provide "additional high-powered capacity to support expansion of our programming services, including high-definition programming," according to an 8-K document filed today. Still, Dish isn't saying how much headroom the new bird will give it or how the satco intends to apply it.

But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Dish will try to do everything it can to expand its high-def TV lineup and remain competitive with DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and even Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which is looking to shore up its HD fare further via an ambitious analog spectrum reclamation project. (See Comcast Spreads the Love and Comcast Confirms Digital Dongle Project.)

In the meantime, Dish's "national" HD menu is set to breach the 100-network mark on August 1 and launch a new set of product tiers under the "TurboHD" umbrella. (See Dish Has HD Century Mark in Sight.)

Although it appears the launch of EchoStar XI came off without a hitch and the AMC-14 satellite has already been declared a "total loss," Dish Network is still wrestling with other satellite-related issues.

According to the 8-K, the EchoStar 2 satellite "experienced a substantial failure" on July 14, possibly rendering it a total loss, as well. Dish said that satellite was operating primarily as a backup, but had provided local network channel service to Alaska and "six other small markets." Dish has since restored those broadcasts on the EchoStar 1 satellite "within several hours after the failure."

EchoStar 2, launched in September 1996, had a book value of roughly $6.4 million as of June 30, 2008, according to Dish.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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