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Sea Launch In Rebound From Launch Explosion

By | February 26, 2007

      Sea Launch is rebounding from an explosion last month of a Zenit 3SL rocket vehicle carrying an NSS-8 satellite built by The Boeing Co. [BA], Robert Peckham, Sea Launch president and general manager, said.

      Boeing built the satellite, which was totally destroyed, for SES New Skies. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Feb. 5, 2007, page 6.)

      Because the crew conducting the launch was on another platform miles away, there were no injuries.

      And there was no gigantic damage or loss to the at-sea launching platform, Peckham said at a panel-discussion session of the Space 2007 Conference at the Washington Convention Center.

      “We’re going to return to flight stronger than we were [before] Jan. 29,” he predicted.

      He said with some new parts and paint, the launch platform will be ready to resume its duty of sending rockets aloft.

      In the more-than-one-hour session, leading space industry participants on the panel voiced these views:

      • While some defense and space industry executives and groups have complained that exports of military-technology products are hampered by government regulations, that may not be a major factor in trade of such items. This refers to a measure called International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. Factors such as quality, capability and meeting schedules count for far more in sales, while ITAR factors rarely become a single decision maker or breaker, according to James Simpson, vice president for business development with Boeing Satellite Systems International. “Lately, ITAR is less of an issue, rather than more of an issue,” he said.

      • SpaceX is unsure when the Falcon 1 launch will occur, though the aim is for a mid-March ascent, according to Gwynne Shotwell, vice president for business development at the firm. The schedule for now is “flexible,” she said. DemoFlight2 was postponed at the Kwajalein Army Range, partly for a lack of critical personnel. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, page 7.)

      • Separately, she said she would like to see the prices for insurance for space missions reduced. Rather than 15 percent or 16 percent, “I’d love to see rates around” 12 percent or less.

      • But an insurer said rates must be sufficient to cover losses. Christopher Kunstadter, vice president with XL Insurance, said losses do occur, and cost insurers money. Especially with new launch vehicles, it is typical to have a failure in the first several launches, he said. “The first through the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth launches are riskier,” he said. At the same time, as losses become fewer, the industry does reduce rates, as it has for the past several years. “Prices [of insurance] have come down 20 percent in the past two or three years,” he said. But he cautioned that if losses exceed premiums for some time, insurers will fail and go out of business.

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