Key March Satellite Launches for DBS

March is shaping up as a critical month for the nation's two satellite TV services.

Both DIRECTV and DISH Network are preparing for key satellite launches this month. And the separate missions will have implications for the company's services, including future expansions of high-def.

Sea Launch is preparing the launch of DIRECTV 11 for some time this month. As of press time, the launch services provider had not departed its Long Beach, Calif., facilities with the satellite for a launch site in the Pacific Ocean.

The satellite will fly on a Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket.

DIRECTV 11 is a 702-model spacecraft built by Boeing. The satellite, when combined with the DIRECTV 10 bird that launched in July, will provide the small dish company with capacity to support its efforts to deliver 150 national HD channels and 1,500 local high-def channels.

Meanwhile, DISH Network is waiting for the flight of AMC-14.

The satellite built for SES AMERICOM was delivered to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, last month and is being readied for its Proton Breeze M launch. The AMC-14 mission is set for March 15 (March 14 Eastern Time).

DISH is contracting the entire payload of AMC-14. Executives said last week that the satellite will help the DBS service expand its local HD markets count to around 100 by the end of the year.