Inquiry Board Established for Long March Failure

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LONDON — The operator of China’s Long March rockets on Sept. 17 issued a statement on the composition of the board of inquiry investigating the underperformance of the Long March 3B vehicle, saying current plans are to complete the inquiry by mid-November.

Operating under quality-control guidelines set by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) is coordinating the investigation as manufacturer of the Long March series. CALT selected the members of the two groups — a working team and an investigation committee — that are conducting simultaneous reviews of the first serious failure of a Long March rocket in a decade. The Aug. 31 incident placed Indonesia’s Palapa-D telecommunications satellite in a too-low orbit.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. has set up its own committee to review the results of the investigation.

“The Investigation Working Team, headed by Mr. Cen Zheng, General Director of LM-3A series of launch vehicles, consists of system engineering, propulsion subsystem and telemetry subsystem specialist groups. The findings made by the Investigation Working Team are to be reviewed and approved by the Investigation Committee, headed by Mr. Yang Shuangjin, Vice President of CALT for quality control,” China Long March Industry Corp. said in its statement. “The investigation results from the Investigation Committee are to be reviewed and approved independently by the Oversight Commission, which is chaired by Mr. Bai Jingwu, Deputy Director of Science and Technology Commission of CASC.”

Preliminary results indicate that one of two identical engines on the rocket’s upper stage failed to deliver the required thrust to put the Palapa-D satellite into its intended orbit. The satellite’s builder, Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, announced Sept. 9 that Palapa-D had been placed into final geostationary position using its own thrusters. Thales Alenia Space Chief Executive Reynald Seznek said at the time that the satellite has enough onboard fuel remaining to provide 10 years of full service, or two-thirds of its 15-year contractual lifetime.