PARIS — Sea Launch Co. expects to inaugurate its Land Launch commercial-launch operations as early as September, assuming one of the several satellites on the Land Launch backlog is ready by then, Sea Launch President Rob Peckham said.
Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch’s established operations from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean will take a little longer to return to flight because of the repair and recertification of the platform following the Jan. 30 on-pad launch failure, Peckham said.
Sea Launch has initiated its own follow-on review of the Jan. 30 failure following a report by a Russian-Ukrainian government commission that concluded the failure was caused when a foreign object, probably metallic, found its way into the first-stage engine and caused it to shut down.
The Sea Launch-appointed team is expected to complete its review by June.
While it will take several months longer for the ocean-going version to return to flight with a repaired platform, the Land Launch version, which is operated from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, is expected to begin preparations almost immediately, Peckham said in an April 4 interview.
To orbit commercial telecommunications satellites, Land Launch will use the same basic three-stage Zenit 3 vehicle that operates from the Pacific Ocean site.
But the first satellite to be launched from the refurbished launch pad will be the Russian Defense Ministry’s Tselina-2 electronic intelligence spacecraft, to be placed into low Earth orbit by a two-stage Zenit, not the three-stage version Sea Launch uses.
Peckham said he expects Tselina-2 to be launched by July. Despite the differences in the Zenit model used, this launch will qualify the Land Launch system and prepare it for commercial operations.
The question becomes what telecommunications satellite will be ready for Land Launch in September.
Measat Global of Malaysia, in a reservation booked through Intelsat of Washington, has reserved a Land Launch slot for this fall for its Measat-1R spacecraft being built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. But it remains unclear whether the satellite will be ready.
Measat’s contract with Orbital Sciences, valued at $69.9 million, called for the satellite to be ready by late August, but Kuala Lumpur-based Measat has told Malaysian stock market authorities that the Intelsat-arranged Land Launch contract, valued at $44.23 million, calls for a launch between November and January.
Peckham repeated earlier forecasts that the ocean-launched Sea Launch, which specializes in heavy telecommunications satellites, would return to flight in October, with a second flight in December.
The platform is being repaired and repainted on the U.S. West Coast. If the second review clears the rocket for reflight in June as expected, Sea Launch’s main holdup will be the manufacture of a 250,000-kilogram steel flame deflector to replace the one that was lost in the Jan. 30 failure.
Construction of the deflector is under way in St. Petersburg, Russia, by a team led by the Design Bureau of Transport Machinery. Once completed, the structure will be sent by ship to Long Beach to be fitted onto the platform. That work, and the recertification of the platform for seaworthiness, likely will take until September.
Sea Launch’s Jan. 30 failure destroyed the large NSS-8 telecommunications satellite that was to have been operated by SES Global of Luxembourg. NSS-8 was the second of a planned five successive Boeing-built satellites to be orbited by Sea Launch.
The XM-4 satellite was successfully launched in October. After NSS-8, the next Sea Launch customers are scheduled to be the Thuraya-3 mobile-telephone spacecraft, the Spaceway 3 Ka-band broadband satellite and the DirecTV-11 direct-to-home television satellite.
Spaceway 3, owned by Hughes Network Systems (HNS) of Germantown, Md., has since been moved to an Ariane 5 launch in August, although Peckham said HNS has not yet canceled or otherwise modified the contract.
Pradman P. Kaul, chief executive of HNS, said April 5 that the company is continuing to talk with Sea Launch about Spaceway 3.
Before the Jan. 30 failure, Sea Launch had been fully booked for 2007 and 2008 for both variants of its rocket and had been facing a six-month stand-down this year or 2008 because of supply-chain issues in Russia.
Peckham said one side effect of the eight-month grounding caused by the failure will be to resolve most of those component-production issues.
“It will take the pressure off the supply chain,” Peckham said. “We are still working closely with our partners [in Russia] to ensure we have an executable plan that meets the market’s needs because we cannot afford to have this sort of problem again.”