PARIS — The Chinese Sinosat-6 satellite launched Sept. 5 has a leak in its helium-pressurization system that likely will force ground teams to resort to exceptional measures to bring it into operational orbit that will result in a reduced operational life, industry officials said Sept. 10.
The problem, which resembles glitches on two European telecommunications satellites launched in recent years, will trigger an insurance claim estimated at around $60 million, according to one industry official.
Sinosat-6, designed to last for 15 years in geostationary orbit, may secure a 10-year operating life, depending on how serious the leak is. Owned by China Satellite Communications Corp of Beijing, the satellite was insured for $200 million for a total loss, with partial losses resulting in a pro rata claim in most cases.
Chinese underwriters took about one-third of the coverage, with Western insurers taking the rest, according to one official.
The Sinosat-6 anomaly will put an end to hopes that 2010 would be a year without a single claim for launch or satellite failures but will not, on its own, threaten the profitability of space insurance underwriters this year.
The glitch, which officials say appears to have nothing to do with the Chinese Long March 3B vehicle that placed Sinosat 6 into orbit, will also further undermine the reputation of the DFH-4 platform that Sinosat-6 uses. The platform, introduced less than five years ago, suffered in-orbit failures of the Sinosat 2 and Nigcomsat-1 satellites. DHF-4, developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, is the platform China uses to export telecommunications satellites and Chinese Long March vehicles as a package. Several DFH-4 platforms have since been launched without a problem.
The two previous DFH-4 failures were traced to solar array deployment issues, while Sinosat-6’s problem is that it is unable to deliver full helium-provided pressure to the satellite’s fuel tank.
A similar type of issue has trimmed by about one-third the life expectancy of the Amazonas satellite owned by Hispasat of Spain. For Africa’s Rascom consortium, a similar leak reduced the estimated operating life to no more than three to four years.
Sinosat-6, carrying 24 C-band, eight Ku-band and one S-band transponder, is intended to replace the Sinosat 3 satellite at 125 degrees east.