It is too early to be sure, but data released by rocket launch company Sea Launch indicates that something unusual happened just 72 seconds into the flight of Intelsat-19 on May 31st. One of the satellite’s all-important solar panels failed to deploy following launch.
Sea Launch used a Russian-built Energia rocket as its launch vehicle, and Energia’s engineers – while stressing that it is still early days in its analysis – say that their sensors picked up an unexpected, isolated event 72 seconds into the flight. “We have only seen this one other time out of the 31 flights and while it is premature to speculate on its origin until further analysis is complete, it bears a striking resemblance to a prior Space Systems/Loral mission.” Space Systems/Loral built the series 1300 satellite.
The full statement said: “The preliminary data review indicates that all systems performed nominally throughout the launch profile including fairing and spacecraft separation. All parameters are well within environmental requirements as defined in the Spacecraft Interface Control Document and the Sea Launch User’s Guide and there is no indication of any re-contact during fairing or spacecraft separation events said Energia Logistics (ELUS) Chief Operating Officer Kirk Pysher. “Boeing engineers did note one unexpected event during the time period 72-73 seconds as registered on microphones and pressure sensors. We have only seen this one other time out of the 31 flights and while it is premature to speculate on its origin until further analysis is complete, it bears a striking resemblance to a prior Space Systems Loral mission.”
Satellite owner Intelsat, in its statement, said “The data available on Intelsat-19 very clearly indicates that this is not the same issue that we had last year,” said Intelsat. “Not including Intelsat 19, five more 1300 satellites have been launched with ten successful solar array wing deployments.”
This ‘last year’ event was a similar solar-array problem on a Canadian satellite, also built by Space Systems/Loral.
Unofficial sources suggest that an on-board microphone heard a loud ‘bang’ at 72 seconds, suggesting that something major was damaged. It is not thought that there were problems with the rocket’s fairing, which protects the satellite through the initial launch phase.
Intelsat, if the above suspicions prove to be correct, will likely make an insurance claim for around 50 per cent of the total mission’s costs.