Loral-built Satellites Cleared for Launch

by

PARIS — A two-month suspension of flights for spacecraft using Space Systems/Loral’s satellite frame has been lifted following a Loral investigation into the failure of a Telesat satellite to deploy one of its solar arrays following itsMay 21 launch, industry officials said.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Loral declined to comment, but the two Loral customers whose satellites are next to launch — SES of Luxembourg and ViaSat of Carlsbad, Calif. — said their three satellites have been cleared for launch in September and October.

All three launches will be aboard International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rockets operating from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. By an accident of the calendar, the failure of Telesat’s Telstar 14R/Estrela do Sul 2 satellite to fully deploy one of its two solar arrays has had a direct effect on Reston, Va.-based ILS’s schedule. ILS still expects to launch seven or eight times in 2011 despite the fact that satellite delays will limit it to just two launches for the year through August.

The next several satellites scheduled to exit Loral’s factory are all intended for launch by ILS.

First to launch will be SES’s QuetzSat satellite, which is using a Mexican orbital slot to beam television broadcasts as part of an agreement between SES and EchoStar of Englewood, Colo.

SES spokesman Yves Feltes said July 21 that QuetzSat would be placed into a container at Loral the weekend of July 23 and then shipped to the Baikonur launch site for a launch in early September. The SES-4 satellite, also under construction at Loral, will be shipped in time for an October launch, Feltes said.

In between these two SES satellites is ViaSat’s ViaSat-1 Ka-band satellite. Its service introduction is eagerly awaited by ViaSat and its WildBlue consumer broadband service, which for more than a year has been struggling with a lack of in-orbit capacity in high-demand areas in the United States. ViaSat-1 is now slated to launch Sept. 28 or Sept. 29.

ViaSat, whose satellite’s launch had suffered an earlier delay when a small amount of hydraulic fluid fell onto it during testing, had hoped for a midsummer launch before the May problem with the Telesat satellite.

“Additional time was needed for [Loral] to conduct an extensive review of the solar array design, manufacturing and operation and implement corrective actions for future satellites, including ViaSat-1,” ViaSat said in a July 20 statement.

ViaSat spokesman Bruce Rowe confirmed in a July 21 email that “there were modifications implemented following the [Loral] review.” He declined to specify what they were. Loral has launched numerous satellites with its 1300 frame since its last solar array deployment anomaly, which occurred in 2004 — ironically, on the Telstar 14/Estrela do Sul satellite that is being replaced by the spacecraft launched in May.

Losing the use of all or part of a solar array because of a deployment malfunction reduces the amount of power to the broadcasting transponders, meaning fewer customers can be served. It also makes it more difficult to fly the satellite in its proper orbit, cutting its expected service life.

Telesat has not announced how much power and payload capacity it expects it will have available to it on Telstar 14R/Estrela do Sul-2.