Land Launch Zenit Delivers Intelsat Satellite Into Orbit

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PARIS — A Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-3SLB rocket marketed by Sea Launch Co. successfully placed Intelsat’s IS-15 telecommunications satellite into orbit Dec. 1 in a launch that was made possible by an agreement brokered by the U.S. bankruptcy court handling Sea Launch’s Chapter 11 case.

Operating from the Russian-run BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, a Land Launch rocket — the same vehicle Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch operates from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean — placed the 2,484-kilogram IS-15 into geostationary transfer orbit. Intelsat subsequently confirmed that the satellite was healthy in orbit and sending signals.

Bermuda- and Washington-based Intelsat said the launch accuracy was such that IS-15 is likely to operate for “at least” 17 years, rather than the 15 years originally planned. Built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., IS-15 will operate at Intelsat’s 85 degrees east orbital slot, replacing the Intelsat 709 satellite now at that position.

IS-15 carries 22 Ku-band transponders, five of which are owned by Japan’s Sky Perfect JSat Corp. It is the third satellite on which Intelsat and Sky Perfect JSat have collaborated.

IS-15, which launched just one week after the Intelsat 14 satellite was placed into orbit, is the second of 11 satellites Intelsat has under contract and scheduled for launch in the next five years.

Sea Launch’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing this year had further complicated Sea Launch’s already strained relations with its contractors, who complained they were not being fully paid for their work. Intelsat had expressed concerns that any milestone payments made for the launch of the IS-15 and IS-18 satellites — the latter is set for a Land Launch mission in 2011 — would be used by Sea Launch for general bankruptcy-related purposes and not for the Intelsat missions.

Sea Launch and Moscow-based Space International Services, which operates the Land Launch system, subsequently agreed to permit Intelsat to make payments directly to the Russian company, while permitting Sea Launch to retain its sales commission.

Intelsat, which has the world’s largest commercial satellite fleet, has since made clear it wants Sea Launch to remain in business. “Our relationship with Sea Launch is a testament to our desire for maintaining a robust launcher industry, and today’s launch marks the fourth success on their Land Launch system,” Intelsat Senior Vice President Ken Lee said in a statement Sea Launch released after the launch.

The Land Launch variant of the Sea Launch Zenit-3 system is used for lighter satellites, while the ocean-launched version, whose platform is placed at the equator, is reserved for heavy telecommunications satellites.