Advanced Television

Catastrophe for Intelsat launch

February 1, 2013

By Chris Forrester

Intelsat’s I-27 satellite was lost when a Russian rocket using the Sea Launch platform failed just 40 seconds after launch in the mid-Pacific Ocean. This is a major loss for the Sea Launch platform which only emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, and has suffered some catastrophic launches in recent years and this latest problem again places the complete system in doubt.

This latest problem was related directly to a Russian Zenith-3SL rocket. Sea Launch immediately announced that there would be a full investigation. “We are clearly disappointed with the outcome of the launch. The cause of the failure is unknown, but we will work closely with our launch and manufacturing partners to determine the necessary next steps,” said Intelsat CEO Dave McGlade.

However, it means that there will be an immediate cessation of launches from the Sea Launch floating platform pending the outcome of the review. The Zenith rockets are assembled by Sea Launch’s main financial backer, Energiya Rocket & Space Company. The Zenit-3SL launch vehicle uses a two-stage Zenit-2 launch vehicle designed by GKB Yuzhnoye (Ukraine) and a DM-SL booster designed and manufactured by RKK Energiya.

According to information from the rocket and space industry source, the Zenit fell into the Pacific Ocean. “The accident occurred during the operation of the first stage. The rocket followed the wrong trajectory already from the launch pad,” said a spokesperson.

McGlade stressed that existing customers operating from Intelsat-805 and Galaxy 11 at 304.5 degrees East (55.5 degrees West) will not be affected. The location serves Intelsat clients in North and South America, Europe and the North Atlantic region generally. Intelsat says the satellite was fully insured.

An earlier Intelsat launch (I-19) also suffered a satellite glitch back last year when a solar panel on its Loral-built satellite failed to open after the Sea Launch lift-off, although the launch vehicle was exonerated from any responsibility.

This latest failure is a double blow to Intelsat in that the satellite operator has bent over backwards to ensure that Sea Launch stays in business, with helpful launch contracts following on from the bankruptcy.

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