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Sea Launch’s Intelsat 27 Failure Creates Setbacks for Both Companies

By | February 1, 2013
      [Satellite TODAY 02-01-13] Sea Launch failed to loft an Intelsat satellite into orbit early Friday morning after its Zenit 3SL rocket and Ukrainian-built booster experienced an anomaly approximately 40 seconds after liftoff from the launcher’s Odyssey platform stationed south of Hawaii. The three-stage rocket carrying the Intelsat 27 satellite appeared to head off course before the main engine switched off, sending the spacecraft and the rocket into the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
         The rocket launch was terminated after it drifted from the planned flight path.
         “We announced today that approximately 40 seconds after liftoff of the launch of the Intelsat 27 spacecraft, all telemetry was lost, indicating a loss of mission,” Sea Launch said in a company statement.
         The exact cause of the launch failure is unknown. Sea Launch said it would establish a failure review oversight board to determine the cause of the failure. 
         Intelsat CEO David McGlade said that the satellite and launch were fully insured and that the operator has made plans to prevent service disruption.
         "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,” McGlade.said in a statement. “Service to customers on Intelsat 805 and Galaxy 11 will not be interrupted as a result of today’s event. Intelsat is committed to working with its customers to identify the most appropriate solutions for service continuity.”
         The failed launch and loss of Intelsat 27 is a significant setback for both the operator and Sea Launch. The satellite, built by Boeing based on its 702 Medium Power (MP) model, was to complete a fleet investment campaign that included the launch of seven satellites since late 2011. Intelsat 27 was designated to operate from the 304.5 degrees East orbital slot currently occupied by Intelsat 805 and Galaxy 11 and designed to serve customers in North America, South America, the North Atlantic and Europe.
         Intelsat Vice President of European and Middle East Sales Jean-Philippe Gillet previously told Via Satellite magazine that the Middle East and Africa are considered fertile grounds for the operator’s satellite solutions. “Satellite communications is well suited for specific applications that can benefit from the technology,” Jean-Philippe Gillet, vice president of Europe and Middle East sales for Intelsat says. “The fundamentals of what makes [this] an attractive region have not changed, as we know better than anyone. That is why we have invested in capacity and infrastructure.”
         Intelsat 27 came into play in a number of contracts for the operator. Intelsat reached an agreement with Gogo this past September to provide broadband satellite capacity that will support its in-flight connectivity and digital entertainment solutions. Gogo is slated to use Ku-band satellite capacity on Intelsat 19, Intelsat 21, Intelsat 22 and Intelsat 27 to offer in-flight Internet access for passengers on air routes covering portions of the Atlantic and northern Pacific oceans, as well as routes over South America, Asia, Africa and Australia starting in 2013.
         In November, Intelsat agreed to provide satellite connectivity and C-band capacity on the Intelsat 1R satellite at 310 degrees East to Grupo Chilefilms for a new digital cinema distribution network to serve Mexico the Caribbean and South America. Under the multi-year contract, Intelsat was transition its C-band capacity from Intelsat 1R to the Intelsat 27 satellite.
         Intelsat 27 also was equipped with a UHF hosted payload designed for use in government applications as well as direct-to-home and video distribution services. Intelsat already has significant capacity for regional and global connectivity, but was working on meeting the demand for broadband connectivity, which is growing for the operator at more than 30 percent per year.
         In September, Intelsat has reached an agreement with Gogo to provide broadband satellite capacity that will support its in-flight connectivity and digital entertainment solutions, the FSS operator announced Sept. 7. Gogo signed a multi-year, multi-transponder contract to use Ku-band satellite capacity on Intelsat 19, Intelsat 21, Intelsat 22 and Intelsat 27. Gogo will use the capacity to offer in-flight Internet access for passengers on air routes covering portions of the Atlantic and northern Pacific oceans, as well as routes over South America, Asia, Africa and Australia starting in 2013.
         The failure could have a more serious impact on Sea Launch’s momentum as it strives to return to full form after emerging from bankruptcy with new ownership. Its successful launch of the Space Systems/Loral-built (SS/L) Intelsat-19 (IS-19) in the spring of 2012 was overshadowed by a solar array deployment anomaly that resulted in a long investigation. It wasn’t until December 2012 that an Independent Oversight Board (IOB) exonerated the Sea Launch rocket that carried the spacecraft to orbit.
         The IOB concluded that, “the anomaly occurred before the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle during the ascent phase of the launch and originated in one of the satellite’s two solar array wings due to a rare combination of factors in the panel fabrication … After rigorous investigation, the launch vehicle was exonerated from causing or contributing to the anomaly and there were no unexpected interactions between the spacecraft and the launch vehicle.”
         Sea Launch, however, successfully launched the Intelsat 21 communications satellite into orbit for the FSS operator in August – the second of its three planned missions for the operator in the 2012-2013 timeframe.