Launch Contract for Intelsat 18 Reverts to Sea Launch

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PARIS — The Intelsat 18 telecommunications satellite will be launched by Sea Launch Co. from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in September or October following Sea Launch’s agreement to donate rocket hardware previously intended for a future Intelsat launch campaign, officials with the two companies said June 2.

In an ironic twist to a months-long dispute among Intelsat, the Russian government, Sea Launch owner Energia and Land Launch — the company that was supposed to launch the satellite — Intelsat 18 has returned to Sea Launch’s manifest, the officials said.

“We have been working with Intelsat for some time on this and we are very happy to have found a solution for our customer,” Sea Launch President Kjell Karlsen said in a June 2 interview. “We are happy we could be of service to Intelsat, and in the end we came to the solution we had the most control over.”

Dianne J. VanBeber, Intelsat vice president for investor relations, confirmed that Intelsat has transferred the Intelsat 18 contract from Space International Services (SIS) of Moscow, which runs the Land Launch operation, to Sea Launch. VanBeber said the transfer has been accomplished so that Intelsat’s payments to SIS for a Land Launch campaign will be accounted for by Sea Launch. Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat, VanBeber said, will not lose the milestone payments it has made to SIS.

Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch, which since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection has been owned by a division of RSC Energia of Korolev, Russia, booked the Intelsat 18 contract several years ago.

But with Sea Launch in bankruptcy and its future unclear, Intelsat transferred the contract to SIS and Land Launch, which operates the same basic Zenit-3SL rocket that is used by Sea Launch, but from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. Sea Launch operations occur from a floating platform towed from California to an equatorial position in the Pacific Ocean.

In recent months it became clear that SIS and Land Launch were having problems securing the necessary Zenit hardware to support the Intelsat 18 launch. Intelsat wrote strongly worded letters to Sea Launch, SIS and the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, insisting that the satellite be launched, as planned, in June, saying any other scenario would be “completely unacceptable.”

Various explanations were given for the problem — that Sea Launch had used its new Energia ownership to deprive Land Launch of hardware; that the Russian government had used its muscle to divert the Intelsat 18 (IS-18) rocket to support a July launch of Russia’s Spektr-R science satellite; and that Zenit hardware was in such short supply that neither Land Launch nor Sea Launch would be conducting operations in 2011.

Karlsen said none of these allegations is true. “The Russian government did not play fast and loose with Intelsat, nor did Energia,” Karlsen said.

As for the Zenit hardware, meanwhile, Karlsen said two Sea Launch rocket Block DM upper stages, built by Energia, and one Zenit-2S vehicle — the Sea Launch vehicle’s lower stage — were shipped from Russia May 31. “None of our competitors ever believed we would see this day of shipping hardware,” he said.

The hardware should arrive in Long Beach July 12 to prepare for Sea Launch’s return to flight from its mid-ocean launch facility. Sea Launch is scheduled to carry Paris-based Eutelsat’s Atlantic Bird 7 telecommunications satellite to orbit in September or October.

Karlsen said that Energia engineers say they can handle back-to-back launches from the Baikonur and Pacific Ocean sites with no more than 48 hours separating the two. “We would like to have slightly more time than that, however,” he said.

Sea Launch has ordered 10 Zenit rockets from its Russian suppliers, principally Energia, an order that should see the company through 2013. Sea Launch wants to conduct five launches in 2013, he said.

Sea Launch had planned to launch Intelsat’s IS-19 satellite from the mid-ocean site in December. But because that vehicle will now be used for IS-18, the IS-19 launch will slip to early 2012, Karlsen said.

Karlsen said he is aware that the confusion about the IS-18 launch has caused suspicion among prospective Sea Launch customers as well. “I’ve been very clear with all our customers and potential customers about what the situation is,” Karlsen said. “I have also been clear that we will be very careful in the future about handling any business for Land Launch. Clearly Energia and SIS need to find a solution to this problem to be sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Karlsen said the Sea Launch Commander, the control ship that accompanies the rocket platform to the mid-ocean launch site to manage operations, is in such good condition that Det Norske Veritas, or DNV, the organization that certifies ship seaworthiness, has permitted it to go another year without a dry-dock refurbishment.

The dry-dock certification will now occur after the fall launch of the Eutelsat satellite, Karlsen said.

 

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