PARIS — The investigation into solar-array damage on the Intelsat IS-19 telecommunications satellite has cleared the Sea Launch vehicle from responsibility and is focusing on the Space Systems/Loral-built spacecraft, industry officials said.
The unusually long investigation — the satellite was launched in May and had trouble deploying one of its two solar arrays upon separation from the rocket — has led to concerns in the industry that the inquiry would end the same way as a 2004 investigation into a similar anomaly, when another Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) satellite separated from a Sea Launch rocket with major damage.
That investigation issued conclusions that assigned clear blame to nothing in particular. Sea Launch and SS/L continued their operations and between 2004 and 2012 seven SS/L satellites were launched without a problem.
This time around, both Sea Launch and SS/L said they were determined to push the failure investigation as far as possible to determine what happened. The two companies divided the cost of an independent review board headed by Jack R. Wormington, formerly of the Aerospace Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., a federally funded research and development center for the U.S. Air Force.
Industry officials said the Wormington board has been asked to produce a final report by Nov. 30. They said the board has turned up little that would implicate the Sea Launch vehicle and that in recent weeks it has turned its attention to the SS/L satellite solar array design.
Kjell Karlsen, president of Sea Launch AG, said Sea Launch would await the investigation’s conclusion but noted that the company has conducted a successful launch since the IS-19 flight and is preparing for an early December launch of the Eutelsat 70B telecommunications satellite. Eutelsat 70B was built by Astrium Satellites of Europe.
Karlsen nonetheless said Sea Launch is confident that its vehicle “will be fully exonerated” by the investigation.
Meanwhile, satellite fleet operator Intelsat has filed an $84 million claim with its insurers, industry officials said, to compensate the company for the current and projected loss of power from the IS-19 solar array.
The array was eventually deployed but sustained damage that, given the normal power degradation of solar arrays over a satellite’s 15-year life, will gradually erode its revenue-generating capability.
One industry official said the board may conclude that “there is an issue of compatibility between the SS/L satellite and the Sea Launch rocket. In other words, if the satellite had been launched on another vehicle, it would have been OK, and if Sea Launch had launched another satellite, that satellite would have been OK, too.”
SS/L President John Celli, in a Nov. 9 statement, said: “The independent team reviewing the Intelsat-19 solar array anomaly is close to completing its in depth failure analysis. The team has identified two factors that very likely contributed to the anomaly. Both factors can be easily mitigated on completed hardware and entirely eliminated in future builds.”
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